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(Once upon a time…)

“Early in the morning, as he (Jesus) was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves.  Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’  Immediately the tree withered.” (Matthew 21:18 & 19)

This same story is relayed in Mark 11:12-14:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit.  When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.  Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’”

My initial thought is, “Wow.  Was Jesus in a bad mood, or what?”  Cursing fig trees.  That’s kind of how I get when I haven’t had enough sleep.  I just want to curse my fridge for not having anything edible in it, and I want to throw every toy in my path into the garbage.  However, Jesus’ words and actions are always intentional.  The Jewish New Testament Commentary calls this “making a point by means of a prophetic drama, an acted-out parable.”  Look at the story in Mark again.  It was not the season for figs.  Surely Jesus already knew that.  This is the same Jesus who saw Nathaniel, in John 1:43-51, sitting under a fig tree before they even met.  And it’s not like hunger was something that could undo Jesus either.  Remember when he was tempted by the devil after fasting for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:1-4)?  This was no fig craving Jesus was having.

So why was he cursing a poor, defenseless plant?  Jesus was acting out a parable in front of his disciples to make a very serious point:  bear fruit.  A fig tree in leaf holds the promise that fruit is coming.  ”We know that Yeshua expects God’s people to put forth the fruit of righteousness, and that unproductive branches will be thrown in the fire.  Thus the drying-up of the fig tree is an acted-out warning.”  Living fruitful lives is that important to Jesus.  He wasn’t in a bad mood.  He didn’t have a craving for figs.  Jesus took an ordinary fig tree and lovingly turned it into a teachable moment for his disciples, and us who follow him.

“Yeshua here is teaching his followers what it means to serve their master, God: it means simply to have the kind of trust that comes from God (vs. 22), and that they will wither away if they don’t.  Yeshua neither acts from pique nor performs arbitrary miracles like a magician; every one of his supernatural acts has spiritual significance.” – David H. Stern

The warning: bear fruit or wither away.  Jesus has some pretty high expectations of us.  It’s not enough to have pretty leaves hanging from our branches.  We must produce fruit; otherwise, we are useless.  And the type of fruit we are called to produce can only come from trusting in God and walking with him every day.  We can’t force the fruit to grow, just as a fig tree can’t produce figs on demand.  It takes watering from the Word, and constant contact with our Lord.  And all things are possible for those who believe.  ”If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer (vs.22).”  To live this kind of  life all we have to do is ask God and believe, and he will work the soil, plant the seeds, and water to a fruitful harvest.  That’s a promise.

Maybe Jesus really did have a fig craving, but not the physical kind.  Maybe he has a craving to see more fruit in our lives.  And this he takes very seriously.

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