Forgiveness, Gospel of Mark, Lent

Forgiveness (Mark 11:20-33)

My son, Peter*, is engaged, and as we have started talking about plans for the wedding next year, I’m reflecting on forgiveness.

Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look how the fig tree you cursed has dried up.” Jesus responded to them, “Have faith in God! I assure you that whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea’—and doesn’t waver but believes that what is said will really happen—it will happen. Therefore I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you. And whenever you stand up to pray, if you have something against anyone, forgive so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your wrongdoings.” (Mark 11:2o-25, CEB)

Jesus is dropping important messages as time grows shorter, trying to cram into his disciples’ noggins all the things he may have said before but is worried they will not remember.

Remember what I said yesterday about not wanting to look up what scholars say about that fig tree until after I had written my blog post? My friend, Esperanza, who is preaching a Lenten series on Holy Week, taking some inspiration from Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week, tells me that the fig tree in Mark 11 represents the Temple. So it is fascinating to me that his imperative to forgive follows on his instructions about how to call on God’s power after Peter (not my son, the disciple) has pointed to the withered fig tree. I’m reminded of a story in chapter 9 that I didn’t focus on here, in which the disciples fail to heal a boy who has some kind of seizures. Jesus reminds them that some actions require being particularly in touch with God.

Jesus answered, “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

Powerful work on God’s behalf requires being as connected to God as we can possibly be, then, and holding onto something, anything, that you cannot forgive another person gets in the way.

This is not the Jesus who will say “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” This is the Jesus whose only words from the cross are “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Which brings me back to the wedding. I wrote in my book – Denial is My Spiritual Practice, which you can preorder here – about forgiveness and letting go, and it’s one of the chapters I feel most nervous about sharing with the world. Have I really forgiven the people in my life who have harmed, or simply hurt, me?

In talking about the guest list with my son, I said there might be some people who just did not need to be on the list. And he responded, “Knowing you, I thought you might want to use this opportunity to be the bigger person.”


I’m not sure how I feel about letting people who have already hurt me have a chance to do it again. Maybe, if I’ve really forgiven them, I won’t have as many expectations as I had in the past. Maybe.

Surely, this kind requires prayer.

Help me, God, to get right with you, so I can know how to get right with others. Amen.

*Longtime readers might remember him as Snowman, and even longer-time readers might recall his original blog nickname, #2 Son.

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.