By: Matt Gordon
When I was in Junior High wearing JNCOs mattered. These oversized jeans and jean shorts would indicate a person’s toughness, his or her belonging in a loose-moral group of individuals with equally loose-fitting pants. JNCOs were huge. Regardless the size of the wearer, JNCOs hung in every direction like a denim parachute—fabric for days. And the pockets. You could keep your ill-gotten cigarettes deep in one back pocket and a fully functional fire extinguisher in the other, just in case.
JNCOs. Man, I wanted a pair. I needed a pair! And finally with astute persuasive skills—whining incessantly at my mother for years—she acquiesced and got me a pair of JNCO shorts that swallowed the lower part of my body in a manner that made me look like a skinny-ankled Pentecostal girl.
As proud as I was of this fashion monstrosity, I was also a bit embarrassed that first day I donned my enormous denim leg drapes. Despite their enormity, my toughness remained small; my character still petite in dainty chest. My jeans did not reveal in me a devil-may-care suavity, but rather colored me a poser. I was who I was—no amount of denim could change it.
Most of us learn and re-learn this lesson throughout life. We buy things and try things and wear things and drive things and support things in hopes that the outward might transform us. That in some way we’d fill the frame we create for ourselves. Instead we, as Tolkien puts it, become like too little butter scraped across too much bread. We stretch to fit the screen, but it causes all manner of distortion.
This is what angers Jesus in Mark 11. First he curses a fig tree. Which is strange. When one reads this passage, it seems like Jesus is just hangry. We’ve been there, right? You pour that decadent bowl of Count Chocula and open the fridge to find the milk all but drained. You curse the fridge, the other inhabitants of your home, the very gods. Dry Count Chocula is a dangerous game, after all.
Is that all that is going on here?
Well, not quite. What Jesus finds is a timid kid in JNCOs, a poser: “When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves.” For a fig tree, foliage should equal figs. But this thing was all leaves but no fruit. It looked the part, but, going back to Jr. High, when a fight would break out, he’d hide in the restroom stall—not that, you know, I would know a thing about that or anything . . .
And this wasn’t really about the tree much at all. It was an object lesson, and as we read on we find the subject behind the object. Jesus heads to the temple courts, and there finds a market place. Folks are selling wares in an area that was meant for prayer and for the approach toward God. Not only was it meant for that, it was intended for those outside the Jewish tradition—it was for outsiders, foreigners, guests. It was for religious outcasts, for seekers. It was for all nations, yet one nation had monopolized it, manipulated it, and were using it toward their own sordid gain. Those who took part in such misdeed were leafy—they knew God, honored Him through tradition, and spouted His commands at others with chests puffed like flowing, oversized denim.
But they were posers. They were figless. Fruitless.
And Jesus flips out. And flips tables. Literally turning the tables on hypocrisy. Dude, earned some JNCOs that day!
I’m not sure if I’ve outgrown JNCOs. Literally, of course, I could never outgrow the particular pair I once owned. Jabba the Hutt wouldn’t fill those suckers out. The pure unadulterated opposite of Daisy Dukes. But beyond just oversized jeans, what do I put on merely to signal virtue or create an image?
The word hypocrite is of Greek origin, and originally described a stage actor. In their theater, actors would play many roles and wore many masks. We do the same today, and in the words of the Bard: “All the world’s a stage.”
In Mark 11, Jesus is teaching his followers to be the real thing—to be authentic. Don’t wear the oversized love of social media or hide behind ill-fitting words on a blog, but love people. All people. All the time. Be “in season” all of the seasons, and produce good fruit.
The world is waiting. It needs true toughness, true love, true character. Not posers in oversized jean shorts, pockets stuffed with identity markers and unending fads, hiding in the stalls when life gets messy.
JNCOs was an acronym. It stood for: Judge None, Choose One. But I want to make a different choice. I want to judge one. I want to see who I really am, evaluate if the fruit and foliage are in accord. I want to see the tables flipped on my own hypocrisy. And, dang it, I want to wear pants that fit.