Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his photograph of an emaciated child in Sudan. The little child was crawling toward the food distribution center, and a nearby vulture was framed in the picture watching the child’s every move.
Carter received the accolades of the international community for such a vivid and horrific snapshot of suffering. Yet, people began to ask him what he did after he took the picture. They wanted to know what happened to the child. Tragically, Carter admitted that he took twenty minutes to frame the picture. And then he walked away when the photo was taken. Two months after receiving the most significant award in his profession, Kevin Carter took his own life. Carter’s passion for “the shot” and even the praise for the greatest “shot” in 1994 left him empty. He had a great passion, but it was a mangled passion that could not satisfy the yearning of his soul.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He confronted deformed and crippled passions. Making His way into the city, He encountered people with a passion for a hero but not God’s Messiah. When He approached the temple, He found a place where passions for a perverted purity and profit replaced the divine intention. Jesus encountered mangled passions for personal gain rather than the proper passion of parading God’s glory.
The narrative of Jesus cursing the fig tree highlights the perverted passions that ran rampant in the Temple (Mark 11:12-14). Although it wasn’t the season for ripe figs, the leafy tree promised the nodules of fruit called paggim. When Jesus found no fruit, He cursed the tree. And in Mark’s telling of the account, the fig tree, cursed for its lack of fruit, presents the portrait of the Temple which fails to produce the fruit which God desires and demands. Rather than a “temper tantrum,” Jesus tells God’s judgment on the ritualistic center of His people’s passion with the curse of the tree. The curse upon the fig tree is a living picture of God’s judgment on the ritualistic passion in the Temple.
Returning from the cleansing of the Temple, the disciples see the cursed fig tree once again. It has dried up and withered. Christ’s response to the disciples’ wonder is an exhortation to faith in God. Once again, Jesus calls for a new passion. For them, the Temple was the center of God’s presence, and their Teacher has condemned the Temple, even as He cursed the fig tree. But Jesus calls them to have a passion un-perverted. To have a passion for God. To place their faith in God and to live their lives according to God’s design and desire. This includes their relationships with others marked by forgiveness from God.
God has made us His Body and Christ’s Bride so that all the people of the world might come to know Him. We must never allow our ritual to impede and subvert God’s passionate purpose.
Suppose there was a place called Ducktown where all the residents of the city were ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and down the street to First Duck Church. They waddle into the sanctuary and into their proper pews. The duck pastor comes forward shares his inspiring message. “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you!” All the ducks shout, “Amen!” And then they all waddle home [adapted from Let Me Tell You a Story].
Jesus found God’s people of covenant, His own people, living as ducks who could fly but would only waddle. They had missed the greatest passion for a counterfeit and fake. They had embraced a religious passion, but missed the power of the dynamic relationship that God passionately sought to bring.
This week, as we journey with Jesus toward the Cross, I pray that we will tune our souls to the right passion. I pray that we will live with our hearts turned toward the glory of God and His passion for those who are far from Him. I pray that our spirits will soar to the heights of life in the grip of God’s grace purchased for us through the sacrifice of Jesus.