Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, Jesus went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (Mark 11:13, 14)
So why does Jesus curse this poor fig tree? It wasn’t even time for it to be producing figs? The first time I read this it seemed like Jesus was acting like a spoiled little boy, mad because he didn’t get what he wanted. It was years before I understood the profound declaration he was making by this act.
He was making his last visit to Jerusalem. In days He would be crucified. In the Old Testament Israel is often referred to as a fig tree. When Middle Eastern fig trees put out leaves they also produce little buds that are quite tasty and can be eaten. Later the figs appear. This tree was full of leaves but no buds or fruit.
Israel (the fig tree) had been given the Law, the Prophets, all they needed to fulfill the promise to Abraham of blessing all nations. But they were now fruitless. They appeared to have a healthy relationship with God because they had a beautiful temple, they conducted the sacrifices, they had the rituals but no relationship. They were full of beautiful leaves but no fruit.
By cursing the fig tree Jesus was saying this fruitless fig tree, Israel, would no longer be the source of fruit for the nations. He was picturing the beginning of the “times of the Gentiles”, a time when Gentiles put their trust in the Lord (Luke 21:24, Matthew 12:21) – the church age.
But that makes me wonder, are we following the same course as Israel, doing great at doing religion but not so great at bearing the fruit of relationship? And, even more specifically, how am I doing? Am I so busy running around doing, doing, doing good things that I have little time for communion with my Creator? The truth is, often I am.
This story challenges me to slow down, to lay down some good activities in order to engage in the best activities, those that bear the fruit of relationship with my Savior – the very One who cursed the fruitless tree. It is easy to look fruitful, to look good and appear spiritually healthy but Jesus is interested in fruit.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me… Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. … When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”