Will He Find Fruit?
Here is a narrative which “bristles with difficulties.”
What’s staggering about Jesus cursing a fig tree here is that this is a miracle of destruction. Everything else that we see Jesus doing up to this point in Mark’s Gospel has been a miracle of transformation or of restoration. Since this is a complete aberration in contrast with Jesus’ other actions, we need to dig deeper into its significance.
In the Old Testament, both the vine and the fig tree are routinely used as metaphors to describe the Israelites’ status before God. When good fruit is growing from the vine or the tree, all is well; when bad fruit or no fruit is growing, God’s people have gone astray.
As Jesus observed the utter emptiness that was represented in the religious activities at that time, these words of the prophet Micah may have come to His mind: “Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires” (Micah 7:1).
Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree, then, was far from arbitrary. This scene was an acted parable of prophetic symbolism. He used the fig tree to demonstrate the judgment that was about to fall on Jerusalem. Jesus had come to the center of religious life looking for prayerfulness and fruitfulness and had discovered neither. The barren fig tree was emblematic of a ceremonial, religious legalism that claimed to satisfy the hungry heart and to please God, but when the people committed themselves to such religion, there was nothing there to satisfy—and this act of the divine Son shows that God was far from pleased.
Does this prophetic warning hold any significance for us, who live so far away from fig trees and temples? Yes! The challenge to bear good fruit is for us as well. Yet we must also beware confusing religious observances or rule-keeping self-righteousness with true fruit. God’s people are always in danger of an empty legalism replacing a vibrant relationship. What is the way to heed the warning of the withered fig tree? Elsewhere, Jesus tells us, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit [the Father] takes away … I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:2, 5). In other words, we must look not to do better but to know Jesus more.
Is any aspect of what this fig tree represents true of your life? When Jesus comes and searches us, will He find fruit on our branches? Will He find faith? Remain humbly connected to Jesus, our Vine, and His Spirit will grow in you the very fruit for which He is looking.
I Am the True Vine
1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
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