Monday morning crucifixion week - Jesus curses a fig-tree
Matthew 21 vs 18 - 19
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 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.
Do you get grumpy when you’re hungry? I do! Fifteen or so years ago, just after Easter we took the family for a short self catering holiday in Spain. We arrived late at night, the queue at the car hire office wasn’t long but it was deadly slow in moving. These were in pre-satnav days so we left the airport late, in the dark, trying to follow the directions of the apartment’s owner who lived in Portadown. Needless to say we got lost! To cap this disastrous start, we hadn’t eaten a meal since leaving the airport in Belfast in the afternoon. Result, by the time we finally reached our destination yours truly was like the proverbial bear with a sore head.
Jesus had gone to the fig-tree because it was in leaf, and though it was too early in the year for the main crop of figs, trees often produced small, bitter fruit which dropped off just as the tree came into leaf. It was these that poor people without food, would gather to eat. This time however, there were no figs. Over the years many wrong conclusions have been drawn from this incident, usually, that this revealed a mean streak in Jesus, that he lost his temper because he was hungry, sometimes that he was vindictive or petulant. Of course they all miss the point and one wonders why.
Jesus actions were seldom pointless, and when the gospel writers included something in their accounts of his ministry they did so because it was meaningful. This is an acted out parable and it is placed by Matthew between Jesus confrontation with the chief priests and the teachers of the law after he had cast the traders out of the Temple, and a new controversy the following day when he was questioned about his authority. In the bible the image of a vine and the fig-tree both relate to Israel and the incident amounts to a warning that Israel and its faith had become barren and unproductive. There was no fruit being produced in the lives of its leaders, and that being so, the barren tree would be judged.
That was then, but today the warning stands for the church and for the individual Christian that Jesus expects to find fruit in our lives, and if the faith in Jesus we claim is not producing anything that glorifies him, then God the master gardener, as Jesus said, prunes and cuts away what is dead in order to make us fruitful. That process may be painful, but it is effective. Is it not better though, to remain rooted in Christ, to walk closely with him and so produce that harvest God seeks in our lives. Food for thought!
Listen and make this your prayer -