Lent Day 36 – The Fig Tree

Posted: March 22, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

The cursing of the fig tree is an odd little story. Mark and Matthew both recount that Jesus sees a fig tree in leaf, and curses it when he sees that it has no fruit, even though it is not the right season for it. When the tree withers, and the disciples wonder about what they have witnessed, Jesus tells them to have faith because anything they pray for will be theirs if they believe.

It sounds bizarre, but there are two things you should know about fig trees. The first is that they normally put out their fruit before their leaves, and the second is that they were commonly used as  a symbol for Israel in the Old Testament.

If the fig tree was in leaf, it would not have been unreasonable for Jesus to have expected it to also be bearing fruit, and so the fact that it wasn’t meant that its appearance was deceptive. It was giving the impression of fruitfulness, but in fact there was nothing there.

Jesus knew his scriptures and so he would have known that the fig tree would resonate as an image of Israel, and given that Matthew also places the ‘woes to the pharisees’ in Holy Week, it may be that he had in view the religious leaders who in some way represented the nation.

So perhaps Jesus wasn’t just having a bad day and taking it out on the poor fig tree. Maybe he was using it as a symbol for the hypocrisy of those who appear to do the right thing but largely miss the point. The fact that he curses the tree indicates his frustration with empty religious observance, and the withering is a reminder that unless our faith puts forth good fruit it is good for nothing and nobody.

But what of Jesus’ words to the disciples? We will all have experienced unanswered prayer, and so it is difficult to take them at face value. Perhaps then we must put them in context.

If Jesus was cautioning against hollow religion, then his appeal to faith was perhaps intended to remedy that. And if he was thinking about the failure of the religious leaders to bear fruit, then his promise of answered prayer was perhaps intended as a promise of fruitfulness for the church that kept on believing.

We have given thanks for the fruit of Revive and prayed for where else it may be planted, and so perhaps we may take this story as an encouragement to keep cultivating that fruit so that we do not become like the fig tree.



40thoughts: try a rhythm with others

40acts: it’s a mystery

Leeds Prayer Diary: Hope for the Nations


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