The young woman was obviously distraught. She approached me and asked how to get to the George Washington bridge. She told me she was going to throw herself off. I was pretty young and did not know what to do. But we were standing right next to a very large, famous church in New York City. It was a landmark. “Let’s go in here and see if we can find someone to talk to,” I suggested. But the stone-faced receptionist inside informed us that, “Unless she has an appointment, there is no way for her to see anyone.” I don’t remember what ultimately happened, but at the time I wanted to blow the place up. How could they call themselves a church and have no time for someone who had lost all hope? Imagine an emergency care clinic where you needed advance reservations…
Jesus was frustrated with the Temple bureaucracy because they were not doing what they were set up by God to do: attract people to God and show them how to connect with Him. Several places in the Bible, this failure is compared to a fig tree that does not produce figs. If fruit trees don’t produce fruit they become firewood.
Right after His confrontation with the Temple authorities (See: Buying God and Risk it All) Jesus acted out a living parable for His disciples:
” Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” (Matthew 21:18-19
By the time fig trees show leaves they should also have early green figs. If not, they will not be productive. Before anyone puts the word “Church” or a cross on a building, they also ought to be ready to lead people to a meaningful and satisfying connection with God. That is what a church is for. If a church was a fruit tree, connections with God are the fruit. No fruit? No church – no matter how high the steeple and how beautiful the stained glass.
How can a church, or any follower of Jesus, be assured of bearing fruit? Jesus told us:
““I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains [lives] in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 – my parenthetical explanation)