Hugh Bollinger
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Earth Day, Good Friday, a story for each

By Reilly Capps It's Good Friday as well as Earth Day, and there's a story in the Bible from the week before Jesus is hung on the cross. It's a week full of action, when he threw the money changers out of the temple and gave the sermon on the mount. And, for some reason, he stopped to kill something for no good reason. The story goes like this: From a distance, Jesus spots a fig tree. He walks over to it and sees that there are no figs hanging from its branches. Jesus addresses it, and curses it: "May you never bear fruit again!" And the fig tree "withers from the roots," the Gospel says. Now, this strikes me as an odd story. Why is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, going around killing trees? It's not a crime, of course, but isn't that a little ... spiteful? And massively irrational? What kind of person gets mad at a tree? And addresses a plant in the second person? The story is made all the more puzzling when we learn this: "It was not the season for figs." Figs in Israel are harvested in late summer and early fall. And this parable supposedly happened around April, near the time when Jesus was crucified. Why wouldn't Jesus have known about fig trees, being a lifelong Israelite? Why wouldn't he have seen them bear fruit in the fall and be barren in the spring? Figs follow roughly the same schedule in America. In early November in Northern California, I climbed a tree here and pulled off a bowlful of figs. Regular humans make these kinds of mistakes all the time, misunderstanding the seasons. It's easier than ever. In the grocery store now, you can get virtually any kind of fruit in any season -- they just fly them up from South America. Figs all year round. But Jesus? Shouldn't he know this? Being, you know, divine? Which leads us to a question: Is it possible Jesus, like the rest of us, could have used some environmental education? This is just a story, of course, and probably not literally true. (For one thing, the two accounts of the incident in the Gospels contradict each other.) But since Jesus is God to 90 percent of Americans, it's worth puzzling over. Especially since well-intentioned people are trying to power environmentalism with Christianity. Of course a Bible which includes a firmament and no mention of dinosaurs shouldn't influence environmental thinking too mich. But it's slightly distressing to see that, when Jesus does address nature, it's often to prove his power over it. Jesus says that humans are more valuable than animals. "Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Jesus heals men, but never animals or plants. And, once, when a man is possessed by an evil spirit, he casts the evil spirit out of the man and into pigs, which are driven into a lake and drowned. Not pretty stuff. Not a good image. The poor pigs. If you'd like a happier story of Jesus and nature, look to the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas, which shows Jesus as a child. There he sculpts out of the mud some sculptures of swallows, and when he claps his hands they fly away.
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