The Good Book Club | Week of January 31—February 6

As Jesus and his disciples leave the upturned tables of the temple, they pass the fig tree that Jesus cursed on his way into the temple. Not unexpectedly, the fig tree has withered. Later in Mark, chapter 13, we’ll hear about a fig tree again, one that has learned “its lesson.” So what’s up with fig trees?

Naturally, the fig is more than a fruit filling for a delicious cookie. In the Old Testament, the fig is presented as a symbol of the nation of Israel. When Jesus enters the temple and sees the fig tree, his disdain is not for the barren tree but for a nation unready to receive its savior. The people of Israel know the laws by rote but not by heart, and Jesus’s frustration mounts.

In chapter 12, we read one of the under-est of understatements: “Then he began to speak to them in parables.” Jesus tries every which way to explain the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to the disciples. These parables of stories and situations familiar to the people of the time offer life-giving lessons about the truth of God’s love, mercy, and grace. We encounter some familiar passages. For instance, the verse, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” is a favorite among capital campaigns (and even etched on the building which houses my son’s gym). Later, we hear the story of the widow’s mite, the woman who gave all she had—two small copper coins—and in so doing, “put in more than all those who are contributing to the charity.” In these passages, Jesus juggles his teachings with the incessant, toddler-like questioning from the religious authorities. Intent on tripping Jesus into misspeaking or heresy, they ask him questions that would require a normal person to do linguistic gymnastics. Do we pay taxes to the emperor—or not? If a woman marries seven brothers, whose wife will she be in the resurrection, they ask. And finally, the ultimate question: “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answers with words simple in phrasing and profound with implication: Love the Lord God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself. This is indeed the chief cornerstone of the faith.

In chapter 13, we encounter what scholars call the Olivet Discourse. The reason: Jesus is talking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) contain this conversation, which is rife with apocalyptic language. Jesus warns of coming destruction, of brother betraying brother, of persecution and suffering. The scholarship is divided about events Jesus is discussing. Is he foreshadowing the destruction of the temple, which will occur in 70 CE, or do his words foretell the second coming of Christ? Whether the great tribulation predicted by Jesus occurred in the first century or in the time to come, Jesus reminds us that no one, “neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son,” but the Father knows. Until that time, whenever it may be, Jesus says to us all: “Keep awake.”

1. Research other times that the Bible talks about the fig tree. What do you think Jesus is trying to say in the three stories mentioned in this weeks’ readings?

2. What is the chief cornerstone in your life of faith? In your family? In your church? What would others say it was?

3. Have you experienced the parable of the widow’s mite—a time when someone gave all they had to the glory of God? Compare it to Jesus’s words in Mark 10:17-27 to the rich man who wants to enter into the kingdom of heaven. What lesson do these stories tell us?

4. How do the words of chapter 13 make you feel? Why do you think Jesus gives some specific details about the coming tribulation—but not a time or place?

5. What spiritual practices can help you “keep awake?”
Partner Spotlight

Is your church named after Saint Mark? Visit the Facebook page of The Episcopal Asset Map, to read stories from folks at churches named for Saint Mark around the world. You can also share your own story on their site. The Episcopal Asset Map is a grassroots-populated site that shares how we as the Episcopal Church are living out Christ’s call to us.
Participant Spotlight

You are not alone in this Good Book Club! Thousands of people in the United States, Canada, and indeed around the world are participating and reading the Gospel of Mark together. This week, we hear from Margaret Edridge, who is writing from a “country town in NSW Australia, very close to our capital, Canberra.”

She writes, “Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for me as I have re-organised my spiritual life. My husband, Peter, (a retired Anglican priest) and I have said morning prayers together, most mornings with the readings for the day. I am also a Third Order Franciscan so we also say the Community Obedience together after lunch most days.”

“This has been our routine for several years, but in this time of closedown, when we are still only able to join in church worship once a fortnight and there are no group meetings happening, I have had to turn to other ways of maintaining my spiritual life....The Good Book Club has indeed been an asset to me as we go through the Gospel of Mark, and I would like to thank all those who contribute in whatever way.”

How are you participating in the Good Book Club? Share your story with us (and send pictures too, if you have them, whether it’s a screenshot of a Zoom meeting or a picture of you with your Bible in a comfy chair!). We’ll highlight participants from across the church. Send the information to Richelle at

Let’s learn from and be inspired by each other!
Listen Up

Want to hear the passage from Mark? The Good Book Club Podcast features speakers from across the church reading each day’s lesson from Mark and a reflection from A Journey with Mark. You can also ask Alexa (or another virtual assistant) to play the podcast.
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