- A Fig Tree or a Fake: Am I Producing Fruit or Just a Lot of Leaves
After Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at his last Passover Feast he went back to Bethel for the night. Bethel was where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived. Maybe Jesus even stayed at Martha’s, she loved to entertain. But I don’t think he got breakfast before starting back to Jerusalem in the morning because the text says he was hungry. Mk. 11:11-12
As they were walking back to the festival, Jesus saw a fig tree off in the distance, but when he went out to the fig tree he saw that there were only leaves and no figs. According to the fount of knowledge we call Wikipedia, fig trees have two harvests, a small one in the spring and a more full harvest in late summer or fall. Because the tree looked so lush, Jesus hoped for some fruit even though it was only Passover time. When he found none, he cursed the fig tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” Mk. 11:13-14
I kind of get the feeling Jesus was in a really bad mood (I’m talking tongue-in-cheek here) because the next thing he does is drive out the money changers and those selling sacrifices from the temple in Jerusalem. Mk. 11:15-17 A point to remember, if God stays at your place for the night, you want to make sure he at least gets a bagel and coffee before he leaves for the day. Mk. 11:15-16
On the way back to Bethel that evening Jesus and his disciples passed that same tree and low and behold, it was dead and withered. It looked like it had been dead for a lot longer than 12 hours. There was not a leaf left on it. The whole thing was withered. The disciples were shocked. They had overheard Jesus curse the tree but they never expected this. Mk. 11:20-21
Jesus uses their shock as a teachable moment. Jesus teaches them about living a life of faith. Have faith in God and if you tell a mountain to be cast into the sea, it will be done. Mk. 11:22-23
So, that leaves me a bit confused (no pun intended). Why did Jesus curse the fig tree in the first place? Was it only so that he would have a great illustration to teach with later? Was he really just grumpy? I think there is more to it than that.
Jesus himself had once told a story about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. Every year he came out to pick some figs and there were none. “For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?” But the vineyard keeper asked if he couldn’t just have one more year to dig around and get some air to its roots and to give it some fertilizer. Luke 13:6-9 The point is, fig trees that only produce leaves are not worth dirt.
I have a little apple orchard in my front yard with twelve beautiful trees. Every spring the trees flower and little apples start to bud but by the time the apples are supposed to be ripening they are all gone. There are none anywhere, even on the ground. I have never had one apple off of any of those trees. If you look closely at the ends of the branches they have been torn off. I thought it was the men we hire to prunes and fertilize the trees but they tell me it is the raccoons and the deer. I want to install eight foot deer fencing around the whole orchard and put electronic raccoon repelling devices all around the trees to see if we can actually grow enough apples for a pie. My husband insists that he could buy a lot of apples for the cost of all of that fencing. That is not the point!!! Apple trees should produce fruit.
Adam and Eve had a fig tree in the garden. They ate the fruit and then used the leaves to make coverings for themselves when they realized they were naked. Gen. 3:7 They used the leaves to try to cover up the fact that they had sinned. They hoped if they put on some leaves, maybe God wouldn’t notice.
Jesus was likely thinking about Jerusalem and its coming destruction when he cursed that worthless fruit tree (Hosea 9:10, Jer. 24:1-10) but the fact that he used the cursed tree to teach the disciples how to live a daring life of faith leads me to believe that we are meant to personalize this lesson as well.
What Jesus told his disciples, when they asked about the withered tree, was that with faith, all things are possible. All things for which you pray and ask, believing that you will receive them, will be granted to you. Mk. 11:24-25
The message of the cursed fig tree is that believers who bear no fruit are just as worthless as a dead tree. They aren’t worth dirt. But with faith there is no reason to be fruitless. Ask God in faith and you can move mountains.