Mark 11:13

and, noticing a fig-tree at a distance in leaf, he went to it to see if by any chance he could find something on it; but, on coming up to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.

a mirage of food
is no less compelling
than a desired lake
in a thirsty land

a hunger to be satisfied
rises from general awareness
a commander of attention
reorienting every decision

a crowd-size need is narrowed
to one and only one imperative
from mission to maintenance
regardless of any other reality

without sufficient resources
in season or out
we’ll search out
trees or dumpsters


A season of belovedness is not yet here. We look for it. We yearn for it. We hunger for it. It is not yet present. Yet it could be.

That which satisfies the resolution of a current lack is yet present. What else have all the healing stories been telling us? That which is out-of-whack, out-of-season, dis-eased can, now, be aligned, harvested, made whole.

All our energy has gone into leaf-making, not fruit-making. Fishing for people is disciple-making not simply carrying prior-revelation forward.

It is not yet time for a new heaven and new earth, a new age. Yet, the experience of wilderness with beasts and angels gives evidence of a season available that is not currently acknowledged. Experience of the emergence of the future into the present can be gained, consolidated, and enjoyed.

The story about a fig tree (a prophetic symbol of Israel, see Hosea 9:10, Micah 7:1, and Jeremiah 24:1-10 for some references) will be interwoven with arguments within the Temple. Both will be found to be exhibiting a linear fault that comes with seasons—that the seasons are distinct instead of each one carrying the others within them. Whichever aspect of the multiverse we are in is available and is less limited than commonly admitted.

To see through “hungry” eyes is to be realistic about the limits we habitually use to keep us in our place, stuck. Our first reaction will be that of sorrow or anger that we use “normal” or “natural” to avoid the investment of energy, work, needed to take our gift, our “belovedness”, into the real world of wilderness that will refine it into being able to engage all the seasons of life from within any of them.

Mark 11:12

The next day, after they had left Bethany, Jesus became hungry;

hunger is a suffering
residing deep within
bodies with a future
emotions with a present
spirit with a past

person hungers for person
place calls out to place
to meet habitual expectations
to cover a recent loss
to finally begin a quest

leaving little Bethany
for a short stroll to Jerusalem
is not a place for hunger
if Martha has any say
but Mary’s curiosity is never sated

Jerusalem to Bethany and back
is a long journey
calling for surprising reserves
unplanned-for preparations
unexpected wearing details

Another scene begins and we are met with a strange comment about Jesus’ hunger. It would be a huge breach of hospitality to have a guest, particularly one in whom are seen great events, leave hungry.

The word for hunger here is πεινάω (peinaō, craving) and is the same word Matthew uses in his Beatitude: Privileged are people who are hungry and thirsty for “the rightwising eschatological activity of God”…. [“rightwising” phrase from M. Eugene Boring in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII179.]

Here we might speak of heart hunger instead of stomach hunger.

This shifts our perspective from individual desire to that unbending arc of justice or mercy enacted so needed if a community is to have a core strength beyond an economic measure of relative worth. It also returns us to the scene with the one asking the cost of eternity only to find it beyond his means to divest himself of the reigning power of resources.

To come to Jerusalem with cheers is a cheap victory. Even if Jesus had come to Jerusalem early on the previous Day of the Colt, he would have had to leave to come back “hungry”. The lateness of the day was not the triggering of his prior leaving, but a recognition that he had not given his “Son of David” title away.

Unlike a recent Snickers commercial, his hunger was not going to negatively happen to others, but it did need to be sharpened. His time back in Bethany was a return to his days in the wilderness following an announcement of belovedness—a hunger for mercy for all.

Mark 11:11

Jesus entered Jerusalem, and went into the Temple Courts; and, after looking around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

what an anticlimax
specific risky plans
suspiciously complex preparations
extraordinary responses
arrival at the center
only to find it bare

there is no power here
nor its vacuum
only ordinary lives
trapped in ordinary lines
the holy of holies leads back
to an ordinary little town

This is quite the dud of an adventure. “We came all this way to turn around?!”

All the build-up of redemption and overthrow seems to have come to nothing. Only a resurrection sputtering away into silence could be worse.

What false bravado we had. Our chants and banners turn out to be fake news, not good news.

Kings in David’s line are not supposed to surrender without a fight. At best this might be described as a feint, a casing-of-the-joint, for a later theft of power. “Surely, tomorrow will bring victory. Just as Joshua had to spy out Jericho and camp out for three days, so we will exalt over a new Jerusalem.”

Trying to follow these early days in Jerusalem leads Carrington236 to recognize:

These notes of time in Mark do not help us to frame a chronology of the Gospel. The sense of motion and continuity and development is conveyed in other ways, by the dramatic presentation of various crises, by the repetition of important words or phrases, by the use of place-names, and so forth.

One of the clues of place-names lets us know this is the conclusion of the colt vignette. We began this chapter with reference to Bethany and Jerusalem. We end with Jerusalem and Bethany. If we were coding a website this portion would begin with <bethany><jerulsalem> and conclude with </jerusalem></bethany>.

We can’t help wondering what Bartimaeus is making of this. His “Son of David” reference seems to need redefining. Is Jesus not going to take a false ruler’s life when he had it right in his hand to do so? Surely Jesus will take over the failed kingship of Saul and the Temple Priests and the Romans. But, how if not by overthrow? Undermining?

Mark 11:10

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! God save him from on high!”

so enthralled are we
with a golden past
we mistake tomorrow
as its extension

not knowing any better
we see only empire
ours theirs ours again
in unending line

condemned to repletion
we roller-coast stock prices
twitter feeds and inner angst
falsely analyzing progress

We have heard a blessing on Jesus as he enters the danger that Jerusalem has become. We now hear a blessing on a still future presence of that which David and his physical descendants were not able to sustain.

We are also led back into further confusions in “Hosanna”. In particular to what a “highest” Hosanna might mean.

Bratcher348 says it bluntly, “In English the phrase ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ is virtually devoid of meaning, since ‘hosanna’ conveys no meaning, other than as a shout of praise, while ‘in the highest’ … may be misunderstood as signifying ‘in the highest degree.’ Eventually Bratcher follows “Lagrange: ‘the acclamation rises as far as heaven, as though to thank God for inaugurating his salvation, and to ask him [for] his help.’”

Barkley268 notes, “[Hosanna] occurs in exactly the same form in 2 Samuel 14:4 and 2 Kings 6:26, where it is used by people seeking for help and protection at the hands of the king. When the people shouted Hosanna it was not a cry of praise to Jesus, which it often sounds like when we quote it. It was a cry to God to break in and save his people now that the Messiah had come.”

Bartimaeus called out to the “Son of David” for mercy. Bartimaeus now joins with others in continuing that mercy or saving (Hosanna) into a presence of the best intention (“kingdom”) of David that will be for all, not just for some. This thanksgiving is also a plea.

Jerusalem is the seat of the current occupier—Rome. To have a “higher Hosanna!” is to call past Rome to a higher power. For everyday mercies (read Everyday Mercies by Evie Yoder Miller) we are thankful, praiseful. Yet, we yearn for them to be more than particular incidents, but a universal presence signified by a larger process of mercy for which we have no other language than “heaven come on earth”, G*D present, Neighb*rs present, and a plea, “Come!”.

Mark 11:9

and those who led the way, as well as those who followed, kept shouting, “God save him! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

fore and aft
the cry widens
we’ll get our own back

every where
energy expands
what matter constricted

teetering between energy & matter
substituting sound for light

we use
what’s available
continuing beyond current limits

This is the position of belovedness—hearing, “Hosanna”, from those who have gone before as the past is returned to wholeness and hearing, “Hosanna”, from those next seven generations down the way whose path is clearer as they build on this moment.

It is this picture of being a fulcrum point that attracts us to hear and experience the vision of the prophets. This is what it means to straighten crooked paths and prepare a healthier way.

The same dual perspective is found in ὡσαννά (ōsanna, Hosanna). It can be heard in Psalm 118:26 as coming from the Temple/G*D to individuals coming to offer their thanks for one deliverance or another. It can be heard here coming from individuals to one seen as arriving in the “name of the Lord” to deliver from current occupation.

Whether from an individual or “heavenly” perspective the word itself can come from an individual to mean, “Save (us/me)! or from a blessing place or person, “Hail!/Welcome!”. “Hosanna” is both a boisterous praise for a past healed and a deep prayer that a better future will arrive. This is a common place for readers to find themselves and an opportunity to willingly dive into the middle of complexity.

If the colt image can find precedence in Zechariah 9:9–10, the imagery of palms/plant waving comes from a time much more within then-living memory, 1 Maccabees 13:47–52.

Sabin-299, writes:

By using language that would remind his readers of both Zechariah’s peace-loving king and of Simon Maccabeus, Mark offers a complex picture of Jesus. Both scriptural passages converge in showing someone who took action to restore the Temple to its original state as a place of worship. Yet there is a tension between the two. As Mark develops his portrait of Jesus’ relationship to the Temple, he also continues to show this tension.

Mark 11:8

Many of the people spread their cloaks on the road, while some strewed boughs which they had cut from the fields;

a parade well begun
slows as people crowd around

though not a million-person march
the intensity is heightened

trees and fields are ransacked
sabbath best is offered

passion goes beyond tearing clothes
to commitment of whole garments

to place a cloak is to place a bet
Jesus will come into our kingdom

Cloaks (ta himatia), like garments and clothing in general, are very significant throughout Mark’s Gospel. As we have seen over and over, their meaning comes from the one who wears them. They express someone’s identity and are a symbol of the person. In the Bible, as in so many cultures still today, clothing is a proper symbol, just as someone’s name is a proper word. ~LaVerdiere147

Cultural motifs do not travel well. A gesture in one land can mean something quite the opposite in another. A “thumbs-up” sign can mean everything is alright in one place and be the equivalent of a middle-finger expression of disgust at all you are. Clothes on the ground to be walked over by a colt is one of those signs that is best not given too much attention. In many African settings honor is given by cleaning the way, not littering it.

Even biblically this carries a different weight if we look at when Jehu became king (2 Kings 9:13). Jehu is honored and goes on to rule through violence and eventually die. This is different than the suffer, be put to death, and resurrection Jesus sees. Jesus has given no sign of coming under a sign of peace (a dove of belovedness) and doing a bait-and-switch into being a hanging judge.

Alfred Marshall’s literal translation of the second part of this verse is: “and others wisps of twigs, cutting out of the fields”. Wright147 reminds us that Mark “doesn’t say the people waved palm branches; the word for what they cut from the fields could just as easily mean corn or straw, or leafy branches cut from trees.” The focus is more on the fields than it is what is gleaned from them.

There is a secondary meaning of the action we have come to associate with palm branches and that is the treading of twigs and other plant material into the equivalent of mattresses. The crowd is literally smoothing and softening the way.

Mark 11:7

Then they brought the foal to Jesus, and, when they had laid their cloaks on it, he seated himself on it.

having gone one mile out
to gather a basic resource
there is no reason not to
come an extra mile back
and add value

of course afterward
we will boast
how high he sat
regally perched atop
our humble cloak

The versification here seems to have been caught up in Mark’s breathless style as the first line (7a) would make a fine end to the plan Jesus laid out to have a symbolic vehicle of peace (contrasted with a mighty war horse) on which to enter and restore a place fallen from its heritage as a “city of peace (harmony/wholeness/health/safety)”.

7b then leads us to the next round of symbols—garments, clothes that represent people’s lives being laid down in service, suffering.

In all of this, Jesus begins the process but soon disappears from it. Of more importance than himself at this point are the symbols used.

With Bartimaeus following and symbols beginning to pile up in a theater of the absurd, whatever value a Messianic Secret might have had, it is now past.

The first to offer a sign of their life in service are the two disciples who fetched the unridden colt. Something in their adventure shifted their attention. There is another shift here from Baptizer John saying one more powerful than he would come and these disciples saying, with their clothes, that one more powerful than they had come. Somewhere in Mark’s relating Jesus’ journey there is a commitment to do more than mysteriously follow.

This action by two disciples, that will get picked up by the still affirmative crowd, asks Mark’s readers about their own turning point. What sign will commit them to also enter Jerusalem as an anti-king, a restorer of hope in whatever current Mad Max scene of gratuitous violence is still proceeding in unending flow.

After all the time of witnessing healings, feedings, calmings, teachings, and other high moments, there is something about participating that makes a difference. Whenever people go out two-by-two, a difference is made. Who is your current buddy in difference-making?

Mark 11:6

And the two disciples answered as Jesus had told them; and they allowed them to go.

imagine that
naming authority
makes différence

arguments sharpen
when beginnings
are clarified

clearing suppositions
lessens blame
gives commonality

unacknowledged desire
claims complicity
empire sabotage

This would seem to confirm that the disciples sent for an unridden animal were not of the Twelve, who tend to misinterpret what Jesus says. Like Eve and Adam, the Twelve forget exactly what was said to them and shift it, ever so slightly, in applying it to a current situation.

The Twelve would likely question this task of fetching an animal as technically outside the framework of fishing for people and proceed to modify Jesus’ instructions, ever so slightly.

In a time of resistance, the slightest bobble of a password is a major failure. It is also a time when a password can be past its “sell by” date. Repeating an out-of-date password is the same as “sibboleth”ing the up-to-date one—failure.

This can be read as an appeal to keep one’s call up-to-date. When a call goes out of date and we keep repeating it, there is trouble a-brewin’.

As in any system, the quantity and quality of feedback loops are a measure of health. In a sense, this is a confirmation of Jesus’ assessment of the situation by way of a confirmation by the people that a challenge of the current oppressive situation is needed. Releasing the colt is putting the questioners in the position of being accomplices, accessories before the fact.

These bit players reflect well the role of all later disciples. Each actor resolving to shift Macbeth’s perspective from strutting and fretting their shadowy hour within a generations-long play to steadily and trustingly living their meaning in its proceeding. Along the way there will be new tasks. As the songwriter says, “New occasions teach new duties”. This is all summed up by Henry in The Fantasticks, “Remember, Mortimer (the generic name of all disciples), there are no small actors, only small parts” and concludes with the call, “Remember me—in light!” We do our best and leave the rest to be seen, in light, in a larger context than we knew at the time.

Mark 11:5

Some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the foal?”

nothing seems to come easy
if only knots were easier to untie
we’d have already been on our way

now we’ll have to take it
from the top starting
with our instructions

while this may take time
it will be shorter than otherwise
going to community court

so we’ll play a middle game
speeding our process here
while delaying our return a bit

nothing comes easy in situ
untying is a witness
as clear as any healing

As expected the Neighborhood Watch committee is on duty and the logical response is, “Hey! What the …?”

The community not only watches out for property but character as well. Unfortunately it is not always easy to tell which members of the community are assassins of the hated Romans? How many are colluding with them because of the personal advantage that brings? How many are trusting what has been true to this point in hope of returning to glory? How many are just focusing on day-to-day survival with no larger vision?

The question: “What are you doing?” can arise from any of these perspectives, or others. This is not a question about action as much as it is about intention.

This question can be seen as a way of controlling the situation as the person who gets the first accusation in goes on to win by setting the frame of the context. Ordinary people are sensitive to this question and often second-guess themselves in light of community approval. One psycho-social condition or another will only hear this as an opportunity to tout their source of authority—“I say so” or “Jesus says so”.

This question is related to the infamous seven last words of the church (or any other institution), “We’ve never done it this way before!” When we take this story a verse at a time we allow ambiguity and possible outcomes reveal themselves. Even these seven words can have a positive spin when there is an appreciation of the role of risk in the matter of trust or faith. How will the people of the village respond to catching these two in an act of privileged use of resources?

Mark 11:4

The two disciples went, and, finding a foal tethered outside a door in the street, they untied it.

against all better judgment
and letter of the law
we’re doing what we can’t see
any reason for

just because our intentions
are purer than legal
we do what we need to do

in the process of undoing
nine-tenths of the law
possession is in the hand

Sure enough, the storyline that was set up is going to be followed through on in the next four verses. This raises a complaint about it taking so long to complete this task when so much of Mark takes place lickity-split.

Where is the sense in hurrying up the mountain to Jerusalem in no time (verse 10:52 completes the Bartimaeus event in Jericho and verse 11:1 has us entering the Jerusalem environs), only to spend seven verses (11:1–7) on the task to get a colt when walking into Jerusalem would be sufficient and “…this carefully choreographed political street theater is designed to repudiate Messianic triumphalism” [Myers145]?

Commentators bring forth various linkages to the scriptures Jesus would have known and symbolic importance of this parade which is still re-enacted in many congregations as Palm Sunday. They do so from their various perspectives that range from a literal one-to-one linkage with prior scriptures to an over-arching meta-story of the life and times of Jesus.

Here I will first claim that the two disciples sent on this mission were not of the Twelve because the task went so well. Except for being sent out two-by-two, the Twelve primarily misunderstand and fail at their assigned tasks. This understanding allows the reader to begin preparing for the final subversion and considering their part in a story that can only be trusted, never confirmed.

Next I claim contingency is a universal component of faithful living or loving life. It is helpful to have a built-in response that can be pulled out at a moment’s notice—necessity.

A third claim is that we never have the opportunity to see how much we trust a partnership with Jesus and his followers without actually getting into a situation that entails a risk of learning our part in a larger mission didn’t work. Direct action comes with no guarantee.