What the Fig?

Tradition holds that it was on Tuesday that Jesus cursed the fig tree, and now, some 2,000 years later, it is an often misunderstood parable that still confuses many. The parable can be found in Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 20. This is the final day of Jesus public ministry before He celebrates the Passover. That is likely significant in and of itself, but I digress. So a brief summary of the story. Jesus, finding himself hungry, comes upon a fig tree that is not bearing any fruit. He curses the tree saying that from this time it will not produce fruit, and, from the moment that the curse was uttered, it began to wither. There is the beginning. It’s worth noting here that Mark tells us that it was not even the season for figs, so it was not a surprise that the tree had no fruit. Why then would Jesus curse the tree to not produce fruit? At a casual reading it almost seems mean spirited that He would do such a thing.
The first lesson here is fairly evident. This is a spiritual lesson to the disciples. Christ tells them that should they have faith they will be able to do this as well as move mountains. He is repeating a point that He has made earlier in telling the disciples that faith can move mountains. He has simply provided them with a very real world example that is quickly observable. By extension, there is the implication that if one does not have faith, they will wither, and eventually die. Pretty straightforward all in all, but I think there is more to it than just this.
Jesus is on his way into Jerusalem. He will soon be clearing the temple (according to Matthew and Luke at the very least). If you read the parable, you will notice that the fig tree has leave and seems to be growing well. Much like the tree, the temple, and many of the religious leaders of the day, had this very same appearance. In fact, through much of it’s history, Israel, as God’s chosen people, have had this appearance. All looked well from a distance, but when you see the tree up close, you can not help but notice that there is no fruit. I also can not help but think of the parable taught earlier by Christ of the fig tree that was not producing fruit (Luke 13). In that parable, the tree producing no fruit after several years is given a short amount of time to produce fruit else it be dug up. I can not help but tie these two parables together, though in truth some (perhaps many?) do not.
I think that it is important to remember that the fig tree is the third tree mentioned by name in the scriptures. We have the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis, then finally the fig tree mentioned as a characteristic of the promised land (Deut. 8:8), and then is again mentioned favorably in describing the conditions of the Israelite people under Solomon (1 Kings 4:25). In both instances we have the fig tree being a symbol of God’s provision and promise. By the time we come to Hezekiah and his rebellion against the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18) we see the king of Assyria offering trying to coerce the army of Jerusalem by offering each man his own fig tree. In a metaphorical sense, it is a human king offering Israel the provision of God. There are numerous other mentions of the fig tree.
In cursing the fig tree, Jesus has expressed His displeasure with the religious leaders of the day. This is certainly not a new thing for Jesus, but this is an especially graphic display of it. Note that Jesus is of course not expressing displeasure with God, nor is He expressing displeasure with the temple as a whole, but rather expressing displeasure with the way that the temple has been used and explained by those in charge. We only need to wait a few moments when Christ enters into the temple and clears it to see it played out. Remember too that Christ was hungry. It is not to far a stretch to think that he was seeking something good, just as He sought good in the Temple, yet all to often did not find it. So Christ has cursed the fig tree to no longer produce fruit as an expression of His displeasure with how the temple has been managed by those entrusted with it’s care. The fig tree has ceased to be representative of the provision of God to the faithful through the priests of the day, and has become a symbol of God’s displeasure with those people. Yet remember, this is only one tree, not all of them.
What then does this mean for today. Much in the same way, I believe that the fig tree is representative of the church and those entrusted with her care. Since we are all royal priests, that means all of the faithful. How have we tended the tree? Are we keeping her properly pruned so that she continues producing fruit? Do we need to dig around her and give her some time to start producing? Do we need to dig her up so that she is not wasting the soil? Is the tree cursed so that it will not produce fruit? Have we taken a fig tree offered by human kings instead of the tree of God’s provision? These are questions that we need ponder as we meditate in Holy Week. In many ways, each church is as a grove of fig trees, and each member is a tree unto themselves. As we examine the conditions in the church, we then too need to examine the condition of our own lives. Do we appear lush and green from a distance, but upon close inspection have no fruit? When Christ draws near us what will He see? We are an Easter people. The time of The Resurrection is near. There is still time as we have not been dug out of the soil so as not to waste it, but that time is finite. Each of us on our own must produce the fruit, and in turn enable the church to produce as a whole. In this Holy Week look to your soil and treat it as being dug around challenging us to produce so that we might not be dug up. We are an Easter people. Like the fig tree, we need to produce and act like it.

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One Reply to “What the Fig?”

  1. “What the fig?”
    Jesus was obviously teaching his disciples a lesson. He warned about fig trees that don’t bear fruit. He might have also warned about fig trees that bear bad fruit, as well.
    Fig trees can carry nasty surprises sometimes. Since I have a fig tree, I have seen two cases of nasty surprises.

    I know wasps pollinate figs, so the possibility of a dead wasp, or its larva, being in a ripe fig, is a possibility. So I cut them open to look inside before I would eat them. Having done so one time, I also discovered that earwigs also like figs, and can easily make their way into a fig. Pretty disgusting.

    I also found out the hard way, that the sap of the fresh picked fig, if getting on your fingers, and then in your eyes, can cause extreme pain.

    So, fig trees bearing nasty fruit gives a lesson, as well.

    On to my point…
    I have noticed that some UMC’s have started supporting groups that I find questionable, under the guise of “Social Justice Ministry”. I shall leave their name out. But an example of their rhetoric follows,

    “A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality”

    Their idea of distorted morality includes, in their own words,
    “We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy” that values all humanity.”

    “We aim to shift the distorted moral narrative often promoted by religious extremists in the nation from issues like prayer in school, abortion, and gun rights to one that is concerned with how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, LGBTQIA folks, workers, immigrants, the disabled and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.”

    The most obvious “Big Lie” they seem to like to repeat is:
    “This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.”

    If we lived in a Utopian society, with only good guys, their ideas might work. However, they offer no solutions, other than get rid of prisons (as if all people in prisons are innocent, and only committed crimes because they were forced to by our terrible society in the U.S.). Get rid of the military, because all wars are the fault of the United States.

    I haven’t heard this kind of Communist, left wing, propaganda since the 60’s. Yet, some poor, misguided, Methodists, are jumping on the bandwagon, and supporting this kind of political activism – which comes directly from the left.

    Perhaps, there is a reason that the “Right”, is called the “Right”. “What the fig is going on?” There is a nasty surprise in some fruit these days!

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