Mountains, Trees, and the “Shouldn’t Bes”

There are some things in life that just shouldn’t be. A mustard stain on your tie right before a big interview. A dent on your passenger side door even though you parked it in the back forty. Tortilla chips without salsa or crunchy peanut butter instead of smooth. How about size 32 pants on a 38inch waist?

But there are more tragic “shoulnd’t bes” in life. The shouldn’t be of losing a loved one to cancer, of a marriage ending in divorce, or of a parent abusing a child. Many times we hear bad, awful, horrible news and shrug. “That’s just the way it is.” Well, it shouldn’t be.

Jesus didn’t put up with the way it is. He got in the face of the way it is and kicked over tables. He didn’t care what others thought. He knew it shouldn’t be that way, and he did something about it.

There’s a real strange story in the book of Mark, right in the middle of Passion Week, or the week leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s about Jesus getting mad at a fig tree and then cursing it.

The story is actually what scholars call a “Markan Sandwich.” You didn’t know that scholars used fancy words like sandwich, did you. It basically means that all throughout Mark he starts to tell a story and then interrupts it to tell another story before finishing the first one. The middle story is like the meat of a sandwich. And when you find one of these Markan Sandwiches, it’s from the meat that you get the meaning.

The fig tree story in Mark 11 is a sandwich. Here’s how it starts. One morning Jesus is heading into Jerusalem from Bethany to join the week-long Passover celebration. He’s hungry and wants a little snack and sees a fig tree. But when he sees the fig tree doesn’t have figs on it, he curses the tree! “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (This is all in Mark 11:12-14).

The next morning, the disciples are walking with Jesus back to Jerusalem and they see the fig tree. And it’s dead, right to the roots! (For this part, skip down to Mark 11:20-24) “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” And Jesus is like, “Yeah, what did you expect? Nothing is impossible if you have faith in God.” Which includes cursing fruit bearing shrubs, I guess.

It seems pretty menial, getting mad at a fig tree. But that’s just part of the reason that this story has always been strange to me. You see, Mark is careful to tell us it was spring and fig trees don’t have figs on them in the spring. But Jesus doesn’t care. He’s hungry now and there’s no fruit so he’s going to curse it.

Once I found out about these Markan Sandwiches, this story started to make sense. Remember, it’s in the meat that you find the meaning. And the meat of this particular sandwich is the classic story of Jesus kicking over tables in the temple (Mark 11:15-19). In those days, Jews were required to bring a sacrifice to the temple at Passover. It might have been a dove or another type of bird or even a lamb. If you didn’t have an animal, don’t worry, they would sell you one! Right there, in the temple. But there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. The exchange rates at the temple were outrageous! It was a rip off. They were cheats.

Everyone else who went to the temple said, “Well, that’s the way it is. I’ll just have to pay a little extra, I guess.” But Jesus said, “No, no, no…it shouldn’t be that way. I’m not going to put up with this anymore.” And he goes to kicking and throwing and flipping tables! And what does he say while he’s getting worked up? “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17)

The centerpiece of this teaching from Mark isn’t horticulture or snacks or sacrifices. It’s prayer. The whole point of this whole story is prayer! Jesus saw a situation that shouldn’t be, and his response in pushing against the system was to pray. “Make this place a place of prayer,” Jesus says, “And you won’t ever have this problem again.”

And that’s what’s going on with the fig tree, too. He sees something that everyone else shrugs at. “Well, Jesus, of course there’s no fruit. It’s spring. That’s the way it is.” But he’s not satisfied with the way it is. He sees the “shouldn’t be” and decides to do something about it! It’s no coincidence that the rest of the story, after they see the fig tree withered to the roots, is some of Jesus’ most powerful teaching on prayer.

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Mark 11:22-24

Is there a mountain of “shouldn’t bes” in your way? To the sea with them! Is there a tree that’s not bearing fruit in your life? Curse it to the roots! Is there a situation that seems impossible? Don’t shrug another “It is what it is.” Get in its face! Is there a doctor’s visit, a court case, a parent/teacher meeting, a crime report, or a news alert that’s got you fired up because you know the way it is just shouldn’t be? It’s time to start flipping tables! It’s time to put some faith in God and believe for an answer to the “shouldn’t bes” in your life.

If we always accept the way it is, then we’ll always have the way it is. But when we get the attitude that it shouldn’t be, it can drive us to divine prayer moments, tapping into the man who told us to pray for mountains to be moved. Wait, not moved…not budged just a little bit. But picked up whole and thrown into the sea! It’s time we get a little bit of “shouldn’t be” in our lives.

What “shouldn’t be” in your life do you need to flip the table on? What is causing you to doubt that God can do it?