Nasty, mean Jesus! Who does he think he is – causing a fig tree to wither? Obviously, he wasn’t environmentally friendly. Maybe we can wish this side of Jesus away by taking our Jeffersonian scissors to the parts of the Bible we don’t like and neatly excising them.
If our reaction isn’t necessarily one of disdain for the one who withers trees, it’s likely at least to be confusion. Maybe we’re not perturbed that Jesus withered the fig tree, but we might be questioning why.
The truth is, once again, that you are the fig tree in this story. It’s amazing how many times God has written you into the Bible, hidden in the symbols and stories of Scripture. But here we all are, and we should not be surprised at what the Lord has to say to us, if we know Him.
When Jesus first spotted the fig tree, He noticed the leaves on it, and from a distance it looked like a healthy fig tree that was bearing its fruit in season. In ancient Israel, fig trees would bear fruit before their leaves, and so when Jesus saw the leaves, He assumed that He would find fruit.
What He found, however, was a barren tree but one that should have produced fruit. Therefore, Jesus cursed the tree, and there’s the problem. I can’t believe in a Jesus who would curse a poor innocent tree. We have a problem with God cursing things, it seems.
So why does He cause the fig tree to wither? Are we to imagine a scene from Bruce Almighty in which Jesus points His finger randomly at bits of His creation and causes them to blow up – just because He can?
The fig tree, of course, is not just a fig tree. It is the nation of Israel, God’s tree that He had carefully planted and cultivated. But in the end, Israel bore leaves but no fruit, and now God had come to judge His people.
Why should this surprise us? Isn’t this the message of the very first Psalm?
“He (the wise and righteous man) shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Didn’t John try to warn us that when the Christ came this is what He would do? “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9).
If you’re offended that Jesus cursed a fig tree and it withered and died, then I’ve got some bad news for you: you’re not going to like the Final Judgment and may not be too crazy about eternity. Shouldn’t we expect that a righteous, faithful, and holy God would follow through on the promises He made to us? That He would bless those who were faithful and bore fruit and would curse those who didn’t?
From the beginning, John tried to warn us: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The King is here, and He has His winnowing fork in His hand to separate the wheat from the chaff. The King is coming, and when He comes again to judge both the quick and the dead, some will wither before His holy Word!
Do not think it strange that Jesus curses the fig tree on the Monday before His Crucifixion, for He has come to remove the curse upon mankind and the earth.
“Do you see that fig tree?” He is saying. “That fig tree is all of you. If you fail to produce good fruit in this life, then I shall make sure you never produce fruit again! But that fig tree is also Me. Because none of you can produce good fruit on your own and all of you are doomed to die and be thrown into the fire, I am going to be that tree for you.”
“By the fruit of a Tree you died, and by the fruit of a Tree you shall live. When you presumed to feed yourself and give yourself life, on that day you surely died. But on the day when you die to yourself and bend to feed off Me, on that day you shall surely live.”
“Cursed is everyone who shall hang on a tree (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23). And so I shall hang on the Tree for you and bear your fruitlessness for you, for my leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:3). I will become for you the fruit that hangs on the Tree, the Cross, and I will be for you the Tree of Life. Eat of my fruit and become a part of me, and you shall have life.”
Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance. You have had Advent to prepare for the Life which is Christ, and now you also have Lent. Hear, then, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He said, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:18-20).
Seek Jesus, the Tree of Life. Seek to be united to Him today, and so shall you be made into a tree of life that bears good fruit when He comes.
Prayer: Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the words which we have heard this day with our outward ears, may, through thy grace, be so grafted inwardly in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living, to the honor and praise of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. Meditate on your being the fig tree that deserves to be cursed and die and how Jesus has turned you into a tree of righteousness fed by Him.
2. Praise God for the fruit that He has caused to grow in your life.
3. Consider in what ways you have been barren before the Lord.
4. Practice thinking of every event you encounter today as an opportunity to either bear fruit in Christ or to prepare yourself to bear fruit.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way to consciously seek to eat of the fruit of life, Jesus Christ, today and to prepare the ground of my heart so that He may bear His fruit in me.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson