Now the next day, as they went out from Bethany, he was hungry. After noticing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it. 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.” And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:14 NET)
It was the last week of Jesus being with his disciples and living on the earth – later that week he would be crucified. During this last week Jesus and his disciples were staying in Bethany but traveled each day into Jerusalem. This particular morning as they left they saw a fig tree in the distance with leaves – and they were hungry (normal Jewish breakfast time was in the late morning, so they had not yet had time to eat anything). They approached the tree but there was no figs to be found – after all, it wasn’t even the right season. But Jesus “cursed” this tree: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus reacted this way to this particular tree? After all, it wasn’t even the right season to find figs there. Was it just because he was hungry and found nothing to eat? Or was there more to it?
The problem with this tree was that it had leaves. You might be thinking, OK, all trees have leaves, so what is the problem? Leaves on a fig tree indicated that there should have been figs on the tree, as the figs appeared first and were considered to be edible when the leaves came out. This tree had leaves but it had no figs – it looked like it should have fruit, but it didn’t. It was a façade: the outward appearance was deceptive.
Some have suggested that this is a parable in action. The fruitless fig tree, like the Jewish nation, looked fruitful as they were going through all the motions in serving God. They looked like God’s nation. Unfortunately this was just a façade. Upon closer inspection, there was no fruit (as can be seen in their rejection of Jesus, the Messiah).
That same lesson could apply to us. As Christians, we are to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Sometimes Christians can look so spiritual, loving, and happy. But when you look behind the façade what you often see is no fruit whatsoever – there is no Bible knowledge, they really don’t care about others, and they are utterly miserable. Many even teach that we must always be happy and look happy – that if we aren’t, there is something wrong with us. So out comes our façade and we play like we are good Christians. If we are not growing we will die, like the fruitless fig tree. The next morning as they were returning to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples “saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered.’” (Mark 11:20-21).
What is the solution? To be properly nourished and grow as Christians. It is God’s word, which is able to build us up and prepare us for heaven (see Acts 20:32). It is so important to grow in the knowledge of Jesus. It is only when we are growing that we will bear fruit and so be seen to be following Jesus. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the honour both now and on that eternal day” (2 Peter 3:18).
Readings for next week
10 November – Mark 13
11 November – Mark 14:1-42
12 November – Mark 14:43-72
13 November – Mark 15
14 November – Mark 16