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One is the loneliest number


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Matthew adds the marked emphasis on the singularity of this particular individual tree (in Ch 21 V 19). He wants us his readers to notice what Jesus notices in an acute and focused way. He highlights how Jesus is on the move again, in the morning now, when we humans have regained our wakefulness and start to pay attention to our individual bodies.


In a quick clause punctuated with a pregnant pining for puff pastries or plump plums or pancakes or pie or preserves, fig preserves on buttered toast, Matthew tells us what Jesus felt. He shows us:


Πρωῒ δὲ ἐΠανάγων εἰς τὴν Πόλιν ἐΠείνασεν


Πρωὶ δὲ ἐΠαναγαγὼν εἰς τὴν Πόλιν ἐΠείνασεν


Πρωῒας δὲ ἐΠανάγων εἰς τὴν Πόλιν ἐΠείνασε


Πρωῒ δὲ ἐΠαναγαγὼν εἰς τὴν Πόλιν ἐΠείνασεν

The above does not exhaust the variant ways the scribes through the ages have managed to copy and/ or to edit the original Greek of Matthew here, to preserve it for us so that we, too, can perceive how Jesus felt. But all variant copies of this Greek clause do not vary on the fact that they make our readerly lips press together at regular alliterative intervals. The pressing together of our two lips suggests our first sounds as babies being fed at our mother's breast or later being fed by our fathers. This, in such a way that universally our languages, before and after Babel and after Pentecost, have our first words Ma Ma and Pa Pa naming the ones who provide us with plenty to satisfy our pining for food.

Plenty early Prior to anything else - having Proceeded Previously into the Polis - he was Parched, Peckish, Pining, for Breakfast.


Of course Matthew's and his editors' Greek is so much more compact than our English can be to illustrate the effect, the show and tell. But the story moves on at rapid pace:


And - having noticed a tree, ONE fig tree, on this Odyssey - he went up to her.


καὶ ἰδὼν συκῆν μίαν ἐπὶ τῆς ὁδοῦ ἦλθεν ἐπ’ αὐτήν

And - he found nothing in her, if it were not for just only merely leaves.


καὶ οὐδὲν εὗρεν ἐν αὐτῇ εἰ μὴ φύλλα μόνον


And he delivers her the point of issue


καὶ λέγει αὐτῇ


No more my dear will you bear fruit, you're barren now forever!


Μηκέτι ἐκ σοῦ καρπὸς γένηται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα


And she was sapped pronto, presto, was withered promptly, she the tree was.


καὶ ἐξηράνθη παραχρῆμα ἡ συκῆ.




Now a few other related notes:


1. The title of post here on this verse in this online forum is riffing off the Harry Nilsson song "One" that the group Three Dog Night recorded on their first album that brought them their first fame. I'm interested how Matthew singles out this one tree in a way that's different from how the first Greek gospel of Jesus brought attention to her.


2. I'm also interested in how the Greek grammar uses the pronoun for this tree that is to birth figs, to bear fruit we call figs. My parents once had a fig tree in their yard that was so fruitful that they had to put nets over it to keep away the birds and squirrels. I always thought of this tree as an It, not gendered. Here Matthew's pronoun for her (and Mark's is too fwiw) is syntactically feminine. This is consistent with the view, the metaphor, that a mother bears offspring. Matthew is not doing anything unique with Greek grammar. In the context of the mother donkey and her son, the foal, the two ridden by the son of Mary, the son of David, I somehow find this even more interesting. Ma Ma tree, please give me your son, do feed me breakfast, do bear to me, the son of somebody, something satisfying.


3. For how the tree responds to Jesus's point of declaration about her, Matthew uses a verb that we find in the Greek translation of Jonah. In the Septuagint, Jonah 4:7, God smites the one gord. And she, this single gord, is withered up:

καὶ ἀπεξηράνθη

Matthew writes of this tree how she, like the gord God smote in Greek Jonah, is withered:


καὶ ἐξηράνθη

Rather obviously Jesus has the power of God here.

4. The one lonely tree. She also reminds us of other single trees. We think of Aesop's fable that alludes to what we call now The Plane Tree. Wikipediaists writing the English language entry on this fable also cross reference the "similar story from Ancient China about the survival of a useless tree [a]s told by the 4th century BCE Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu."

Much more recently we in English have read The Giving Tree by the late Shel Silverstein. We hear the story read aloud here. This tree, like Matthew's, is meant to give to humans. And it has an end not so unlike the one loneliest tree in Matthew's gospel. There is a universal audience and readership expectation about this tree, it seems. And despite our language, without regard to our culture, we, like the Son of the human, hunger for the help from her.

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