Jesus cursed a fig tree. He was hungry, and when there was no fruit on that particular tree, he put a hex on it so it never again would bear figs.
And even though I’ve never been a friend of figs, I always felt kind of sorry for that tree. But, typical for the Bible, there’s more to this story.
Fig trees are mentioned 60+ times in Scripture. They’re sort of unusual because they can produce up to three crops a year. The first crop appears on the trunk; the second in the branches; and the third in the leaves.
And therein lies the problem. Let’s look at the passage in Mark 11: 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.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Did you catch it? “…a fig tree in leaf…” although “it was not the season for figs.” Actually, it was just before Passover, about six weeks before the fully-formed fig appears, the time when the leaves are accompanied by “taqsh,” small edible knobs that appear but fall off when the real fig forms. Leaves with no taqsh meant no figs for that year.
Jesus understood that. These leaves failed to do their job. All promise and no follow-through. So, Jesus cursed the tree. Not because he couldn’t create a fig from dirt, should he so choose, but to teach his followers that this tree was an analogy of Israel.
Jeremiah 8:13: I will take away their harvest, declares the Lord. There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.
Those Israelites wouldn’t follow through. They appeared spiritual, but there was no fruit. And they were without excuse. God had given them the Promised Land where bumper crops were the norm, yet they took them for granted. They had prophets telling them how to act, yet they refused to heed their messages. They had been told that one day a Messiah would come. They were seeing miracles and hearing of Baptism and forgiveness and redemption, yet they were in such a spiritual drought, they refused to open their eyes and ears and understand the power of the one walking in their midst.
I just have one question: What’s the manna with those Jews? (I couldn’t help myself.) Probably the same thing that’s the manna with us.
God wants us to be fruitful. Trees are known by their fruit. If we see apples hanging from a limb, we know that we are looking at an apple tree and not a thorn tree. (This is not rocket science.) Christians will be known by how much they produce for God’s kingdom.
In Matthew 7:17, Jesus says that every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Look at what follows: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Serious stuff. This is no mere cursing. This is a grand finale that calls us to account. We are to be the real deal. We are to represent Christ in the way he deserves to be represented. We are to be fruit-full. Fortunately, as long as we have breath, we have time to make it right, to produce fruit in a way that brings honor to our Savior. So, here’s the good news: We don’t have to wait; no matter what season, now is the perfect time to plant. Apples or thorns? Our choice.