Friday, January 15, 2010

Haunting Words: He Found Nothing But Leaves

He found nothing but leaves.

These five simple words haunt me.

He found nothing but leaves.

Whispering in my ear on a daily basis. And sometimes the whispers become screams. He found nothing but leaves.

These five words evoke such emotion inside my heart.

Sometimes tears, painful and bitter.

Sometimes anger, raging anger.

Sometimes these words prompt a sense of purpose and even at times joy.

I cry tears because I don’t understand. Why?

I feel anger because it is still happening. He is still just finding leaves.

I find purpose in knowing he is still waiting to be fed.

I find joy because I know there is hope to feed him.

He found nothing but leaves.

I hear these words whispered in the lonely halls of our houses of worship. I hear the ghostly whisper of these five words in our state-of-the-art sound equipment, our elaborate d├ęcor and in our comfortable auditoriums.

He found nothing but leaves.

Over the loud lyrics of our emotional worship service songs, I hear these five words screamed.

He found nothing but leaves!

I hear these words in our strategic planning and cut-and-paste mission statements.

He found nothing but leaves.

Why? Why just leaves?

He was hungry. He had work to do. He needed nourishment. He needed nurturing. But he didn’t find anything to meet his needs.

He found nothing but leaves.

I wish I could see the bigger picture. But the bigger need is blocking the way.

Five forgotten words remind me of a forsaken man.

He found nothing but leaves.

These are haunting words…because this ancient occurrence occurs around us everyday.

Figtown.

He was in Figtown. Most commonly referred to as Bethany, the Hebrews called it Beth Anya, the Place of Figs. I call it Figtown.

A place so known for having fruit they even called it by the fruit’s name.

Figtown. Where else in the world would a homeless man go when he had a simple taste for a breakfast of figs and an empty belly? Beth Anya sounds like the perfect place to be.

But even there, even in Figtown, there were no figs for him.

He found nothing but leaves.

This is where we live. We live in Figtown. Right?

Here’s how Mark recalled the story: "The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs."

This tree, this fig tree, so prominent and beautiful…so obvious it was distinguishable even “from a distance” is so overwhelmingly a metaphor for the church.

Where do we live? We call it the “Bible Belt” and where I live, Central Georgia…this is the place where “the belt” is pulled tight: the buckle.

“A church on every corner,” that’s what we say.

Churches of every pedigree and distinction, right here.

Fig trees…as far as the eye can see. We are living in Figtown.

Jesus couldn’t find what he needed, nourishment and nurturing, when he approached the fig tree.

He found nothing but leaves.

And he finds the same thing when he approaches us…when he approaches our “fig tree.”

I know what you’re thinking. “How dare you, Ollie! How dare you accuse us of starving Jesus.”

But Jesus said it.

Matthew heard him and quoted him this way: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

When we don’t provide for the hungry, sick, lonely, imprisoned, and naked, the marginalized and disregarded…we aren’t providing for Jesus.

He approaches our tree…he looks for fruit. What is he finding?

The word for leaves, in Greek is “foolon” which boils down to basically meaning “everyone the same.”

That’s what he found. No fruit. No care, no compassion…just everyone the same.

We love this comfortable feeling and try to find a church where we can comfortably exist with people who are like us in things like appearance, enthusiasm, or philosophical belief. But is this best?

Is thick, lush, impressive foliage worth a starving Jesus?

What is Jesus finding when he approaches?

Is it the same haunting five words?

He found nothing but leaves.

Let’s show love. Let’s feed Jesus. Let’s feed the least of these.

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