On Monday: Encounter With a Fig Tree
During this Holy Week, my mind and imagination turn to the events that lead to the crucifixion. Maybe yours does as well? The sights, the sounds, the emotions in the air. Part of me wants to travel back in time and be a witness. Or, do I? Of course, the closest any of us can come to the real events is scripture; following the timeline through the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each event, each recorded step, each word uttered by Jesus had a purpose.
The beginning of the holy week is Palm Sunday, representing the triumphal return of the King to Jerusalem. The people waving palm branches cried “Hosanna” laying their cloaks on the road making it a softer trek into the city for the King. What it must have been like to watch as Jesus, in very nature God who became a humble, obedient servant ride a donkey through the gates of His beloved city.
On Monday... Staying outside the city overnight--some say because He was not welcomed by friends fearing retribution--He returned the next day, on Monday, to complete His Father’s work. Can you imagine the determination in his step as He again climbs the hill toward the gates of Jerusalem?
Although He was in very nature God, He was also human. Jesus worked to complete His Father’s will so obediently he forgot to eat. So, even a green unripened fig would be tasty--maybe?
Passing a fig tree, He is disappointed to find no fruit. There are apparently leaves that signify growth, but no fruit. In swift judgment, He curses the tree, and it withers down to a brittle stick in the ground.
This account only takes up five short verses in the telling by Matthew, and at first glance, most of us probably pass right over and move to the end. Maybe we think this must not apply to our lives or, like me when I first read this passage, what does this mean? We need to keep in mind, Jesus never caused a miracle that did not have a lesson for His disciples or for us. In the parable of the fig tree there is a lesson. It teaches us two things about our relationship with Jesus.
We Need Fruit
We are to produce fruit from our relationship with Him. Scholars suggest the fig tree represents the Israelites and the curse suggests God’s harsh judgment. God’s people had every outward appearance of religiousness, but no fruit, no evidence of their relationship with God. They were hand-picked by God, protected and provided for in every way, yet they failed to produce.
In John 15:1-2 Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that bears no fruit, He takes away. And every branch that bears fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit."
We are directly connected to Jesus and have every power and provision we need from God. How we use or don’t use this grace will determine God’s judgment. Is the fruit of the Spirit alive in our lives? Do we live with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22) If an examination of our hearts says no, then I hope we can confess our lacking and ask Jesus for help to grow.
We Need Faith
The disciples are amazed at the power of Jesus to perform this miracle. “When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” (verse 20, emphasis mine) Which is odd to me, because they witnessed so many miracles and the power of God in Jesus yet continued to wonder how He did what He did. Even more curiously, they did not ask why He cursed the fig tree. Maybe, Jesus’ answer spoke more to the heart of the problem instead.
Jesus tells them they can do the same thing. They have the power to wither fig trees as well. If their faith is enough and they do not doubt, not only can they curse a fig tree, they can move a mountain. Jesus has pointed out before that faith can do amazing things we just have to have faith. In chapter 17 of Matthew the disciples cannot cast out a demon. Asking Him why Jesus implies maybe their faith is not big enough. It needs to be at least the size of the smallest seed. With faith even that small we can move mountains. How big is your faith?
How can we grow our faith? It starts by asking God. Jesus concludes His lesson by telling the disciples all they have to do is ask and trust that God will provide.
“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (v. 22)
Do you need faith? Whatever we need God will give all we have to do is trust. And we can trust Him. He is always faithful, always kind and generous in grace.
A Fig Tree
I have a fig tree in the backyard. It started as a stick in the ground. I wasn’t sure it would make it through the first winter. With a lot of care and attention, it did, and each summer produces buckets of delicious figs. Today I stepped out to take a look at the progress. Possibly it would be similar to what Jesus found on his walk toward Jerusalem. (Here's a picture.) I found lots of leaves and tiny fruit.
I love the parable of the fig tree. It may get passed over quickly and dismissed as not relevant, but during this week as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, I hope we can settle on these passages and evaluate our hearts. Am I producing fruit? Is there evidence of a change in my life as a result of knowing the risen Christ? Is my faith lacking? Do I truly trust God for everything I ask? If not, then I hope you will stop today and ask God to grow His Spirit in you to live a fruitful life and trust in His faithfulness.
Father God, we praise You, we love You and we thank you for all of the gifts you give us. Whenever we need anything, all we have to do is ask and you are faithful to provide. Plant in us a spirit that produces fruit and a faith that trusts in You alone. Amen.
Looking for a guide to help prepare your heart for Easter? I found this book by C.S. Lewis, Preparing for Easter. It's been an excellent source of reflection.