FRUITLESS FIG

Here’s a good one for all of us to ponder on!  Thanks Lee!-anita

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Have you ever come across a passage in Scripture which absolutely left you scratching your head? Why is that there; it looks so meaningless? What is the Bible trying to teach there?

Well, I came across another one recently. This is the account of the fig tree in Mark 11:12-14. Jesus is in and around Jerusalem and preparing for His upcoming sacrifice on the Cross. Leaving Bethany and heading back to Jerusalem, Mark relates that Jesus was hungry and, seeing a leafy fig tree in the distance, He headed toward it. Once by the tree, He found it without fruit and then, amazingly, He cursed it saying “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” Now, what can that all mean? Why would Jesus—whose time was drawing short with the Cross ever looming—take time to curse this insignificant little fig tree? So, I’ve often wondered.

It seems that Jesus had a purpose. One clue I see is that the next line in the passage, after Jesus’ curse, says, “And His disciples were listening.” Typically, fig trees in this region have abundant fruit on them once they grow leaves. So Jesus expected it to have fruit when He approached it. In Jesus actions upon finding the tree fruitless we see an example of what Bible scholars call an “enacted parable.” According to Fr. Daniel J. Harrington writing in The National Catholic Review, enacted parables are “… symbolic actions intended to make a public theological statement….” Jesus’ actions with the fig tree, for example, were similar to what Old Testament prophets did before Him. Fr. Harrington cites examples of such enacted parables performed by Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

A perfect OT example of an enacted parable can be found in Jeremiah 32 where the prophet foretells that God is giving Judah over to the Babylonians: “Behold, the siege mounds have reached the city to take it….” [Jer 32:24] Then, astonishingly, God tells Jeremiah to buy a piece of land nearby, despite the fact that the armies of Babylon are literally at the gates. My first thought was, huh, what future is there in that?! But Jeremiah obediently weighed out 17 shekels of silver for the parcel of land. The answer to this confusing enactment can be found in several places in Jeremiah. While God is permitting Babylon to conquer Israel because of its disobedience in serving/worshiping other Gods like Baal and Molech, He still wants Israel to know He is not abandoning her. Jeremiah 30:10-11 says in part, “…do not be dismayed, O Israel; For behold, I will save you from afar…Jacob shall return [to the land], and shall be quiet and at ease….” So God, through Jeremiah’s purchase of the field in the face of impending disaster, is saying effectively, take heart, Israel, there will again come a day when it will make sense to hold deeds to property in the land. This captivity and removal to Babylon isn’t permanent “For I am with you….” [Jer 30:11]

And the fig tree? Ligonier’s Tabletalk comment on this passage notes, “Jesus cursed the fig tree for its fruitlessness, for not living up to what it appeared to be when it had foliage but no figs. That is a warning to all who profess faith in Him. We are to bear fruit for God’s glory….”

The Tabletalk commentary also notes: Often in the times of the OT prophets, they would symbolically use the example of barren fig trees to show divine judgment on unfaithful Israel [see Hosea 2:8-13, especially verse 12]. Jesus’ curse on the fig tree should be taken as a sign that judgment was about to come on Jerusalem. Instead of Babylon, though, it would come in the form of Rome and the resulting destruction of the city and the Temple.

My own conclusion, as I thought about this episode with the fig tree, is that God [Jesus] doesn’t waste time with irrelevant or insignificant things. If He takes what appears to be a superfluous action—like cursing a little fig tree—there’s more there than meets the eye. Look deeper!

By:  Lee Pierce