During the readings of the day of Monday, the Church in Her wisdom has two parallels or two things occurring. You have the prophecies on one track and what happens with Christ on the other. The Church starts by speaking about creation and the Fall in the prophecies. God creates everything and sees that it is good; he sees the land, the sea, the creatures, and Adam and sees that it is good. While this is happening in the prophecy readings, in the Gospels, we see Christ leaves from Bethany to the temple, and on the way, He sees a fig tree with leaves but no fruit! And He curses the tree, and when He arrives at the temple, He cleanses the temple.
What is the common thing between the prophecies and the readings about Creation and the Fall? The fig leaves!
The Church Fathers speak about how the fig tree symbolizes Israel. They outwardly followed the Law but inwardly were corrupt as we see Christ cleansing the temple.
So the Church is telling us we cannot have this double life, and the warning is to us even. Sometimes we may compare ourselves with others and say well, at least I’m at church; I serve, I don’t do drugs or drink, yet we, myself first and foremost, are like this fig tree.
From the outside, it looks like we have it together spiritually but bear no fruit. So I started to think about why? Why do we do this? Why do we give the appearance to others with our “leaves” but bear no fruit? And I thought about how the Church showed us the story of Adam & Eve using fig leaves to cover themselves after they ate the tree in the morning. So then I asked myself why they used fig leaves to cover themselves? And it was a shame!
Scripture tells us they were ashamed of their nakedness, and likewise, we like this fig tree bear leaves without fruit because we have this deep-rooted shame.
This shame tells me that I am a terrible & unworthy person and that no one would love me as I am, so I put on these “leaves” to give the appearance that I have substance, that I matter. It is too overwhelming for people to see the real me, so what do we do? We end up creating these leaves.
I put on the “leaves” of doing all these spiritual exercises externally to get the praise of others rather than the praise of God!
I put on the “leaves” of reading the Bible so others can see how knowledgeable I am in scripture.
I put on the “leaves” of learning hymns so others can see I praise God.
I put on the “leaves” of being successful so others can see I am #blessed
I put on the “leaves” of fasting so that others can see I’m disciplined.
I put on these “leaves,” thinking I am offering something to God, but where is God? Far, far away! And ultimately, I like the fig tree bear leaves but no fruit because I want the approval of others rather than of God. The interesting thing is that fig leaves can cause significant irritation. So you can imagine Adam & Eve “covering” their shame with something else that not only doesn’t fix the shame but causes more issues. How often do we do this? We turn from human beings into human doings; we do things to “fix” our shame but what ends up happening is we only make it worse.
So what is the solution? It is to surrender to God in every little and big thing. I need to offer this toxic shame to God! This comes by realizing that I can in no way or manner have value apart from God. We often call it self-esteem or self-worth. This is somewhat misleading because it makes it seem that I, from and of myself, have value, which is precisely what caused us to Fall from the Garden in the first place. I have no value or worth apart from the Holy Trinity. Fr. David Fontes, in his book In the Eyes of Your Creator, says, ‘if we define self-esteem as “knowing our personal value in the eyes of our Creator,” we can say that is a good thing. On the other hand, valuing ourselves apart from our Creator is not a good thing—it is the seed of the sin of pride, the source of all sin. In other words, my sense of personal dignity and value can lead to boasting about my intrinsic worth apart from God and His grace if I do not acknowledge God’s work of grace in my life or God’s hand in my accomplishments. I tend to shy away from using the word self-esteem when talking to people because it can lead to the idea that my self-esteem comes from my self-effort apart from God’s grace working within me. As human beings, we need to understand that our personal values and the value of our so-called accomplishments are first and foremost rooted in God’s love for us. It is He who is working in and through us when we cooperate with His work of grace in our life. Yet having “healthy” pride in ourselves and restoring our self-esteem apart from God’s grace is the way many modern-day secular self-help books and contemporary psychologists teach us to acquire good mental health.” This will only lead us to the never-ending path of trying to build ourselves up in ways that are dead ends.
Interestingly enough, St. Cyril of Jerusalem says Christ reverses the curse laid upon Adam & Eve in cursing the fig tree, which was this sentence of being shamed away from God, which is ultimately what Christ does for us on the cross, today on Good Friday. He ascends on the cross naked to heal the shame that not only Adam & Eve felt but that every one of us experiences every day. Actually, the Journal of American Medicine published a very in-depth review of the crucifixion from a historical point of view in the 80s. They stated that the practice of the Romans was to crucify utterly naked as part of the shaming and humiliation of the person. But we, out of modesty, do not depict that.
May we take our shame and our worth to the feet of Christ on the cross and tell Him while He became sin and was shamed to you is the glory, the power, the blessing, and the majesty forever. Amen.