The cursing of the fig tree seems like one of the most peculiar events in the Gospels. What was going on there? Did Jesus just lose it with an inanimate object in the same way that I get frustrated when the internet plays up or the TV refuses to respond to the instructions I send it via the remote?
Read Mark 11:12-25.
The events at the fig tree envelope Jesus’ clearing of the Temple -we’ll return to that specific event later but I would suggest that we are meant to see the both linked. Jesus’ words to the Tree are really words for the people at the Temple and the consequences we see later are intended to visually demonstrate a greater judgement coming.
In verse 12-14, Jesus approaches the tree on the way into the city to see if it has any fruit on it. He’s looking for a snack. He doesn’t find fruit. Mark tells us that it was a little too early for figs. Jesus responds by announcing that never again will this tree bear fruit. It will remain barren.
Given that it wasn’t the time for bearing fruit, this seems a little harsh. However, I want to suggest not for two reasons. The first is that whilst in normal chronology, people wouldn’t have expected fruit, it was out of season. However, the arrival of Jesus means that we should be functioning in different time. Jesus has announced that this is the year of Jubilee, that the Kingdom is arriving, that God is at work. The king has arrived, symbolised by his arrival on a donkey. This was of course not any old King. This was God himself arriving. The creator of the tree had arrived. This was the day creation longed for. Properly speaking, the tree’s purpose should have been to provide food for this king. It hadn’t.
Secondly, this tree represented something else. The fig tree pointed figuratively to Israel as God’s people. Jesus, the king had shown up and found Israel unfruitful. Perhaps there were plenty of excuses. The people hadn’t been ready. Jesus had arrived out of season, the Pharisees were still doing their work encouraging holiness – God was meant to arrive in response to their work of purification. The people were living in slavery to Rome, not in freedom where they were at liberty to receive their king. But no, the excuses will not do. Israel should have been ready for her king.
So, Jesus will draw another lesson for his followers from this. Just as he could speak and expect a response, like a cursed tree being withered, so too, they could expect to speak in faith and see God’s word come true. This is akin to the promise in Genesis 12 that God would bless all those who blessed Abraham and curse those who cursed him
The point is this. The King who could do everything was here. The King whose pleasure, this creation was made for was speaking. The response of the Pharisees was doubt and faithlessness. Therefore, they were under judgement. Jesus here calls on the disciples to exercise faith and to trust him tow work through them so that creation itself would be obedient. The faith expected of them and its amazing consequences is contrasted sharply with the faithlessness of the religious leaders.
What is our response to Jesus and the arrival of the Gospel? Are we like faithless Israel and the fig tree, lacking in a fruitful response or do we respond with faith, with true belief that Jesus is able to work in us and through us?