Mark: Jesus and the Fig Tree

Read: Mark 11:12-14, 20-25

The cursing of the fig tree cannot be extracted from the surrounding text; otherwise, we simply walk away confused. There are two sections, bookends if you will, that encapsulate Jesus’s actions in the temple (see the next post). While difficult to appreciate by itself, I hope we can venture into this place and walk out with a better understanding of the events.

When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. Mark 11:13-14

John Mark sets us up for failure if we approach this text as biology students. Jesus, and anyone in that time, clearly understands seasons for bearing fruit–he’s no fool–don’t read this like it’s some sort of revelation.

Jesus approached the fig tree that only had leaves, no fruit. In context, Jesus is entering Jerusalem that is full of splendor, but bears no fruit. The temple is not prepared to bear the fruit of Jesus now, nor will it ever be ready. There is only one possible recourse: the tree will not be cleansed or reformed, it will be destroyed. And so will the systems that man has embellished beyond God’s intention.

Admittedly, when I’ve read this in the past, I stopped too soon and didn’t look further to try and understand. I just read, Jesus was hungry, the fig tree had no figs, Jesus is ticked, so bam! Die tree! I’m embarrassed to type those words, but I was impatient and didn’t look for the rich meaning the gospels intended.

The fig tree has all the trappings of success, invites us to believe it will provide nourishment, but fails to satisfy the soul for it is out of season, unable to produce fruit. So it was with the temple system. Perhaps we could make this assertion for many houses of worship today where the concern is looking good, but bearing no fruit. Even further, let’s make it personal, how about myself? Am I just covered with leaves, but out of step with Jesus?

The next day:

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” Mark 11:20-21

Withered from the roots, the effectiveness of the curse destroyed the tree from the system designed to be its source of nutrients. Now it’s visibly dead. The disciples are astonished. Jesus’s response provides some significant insight for us to appreciate the symbolism here: we need to have faith and we need to pray. Both make no sense if we think the fig tree episode is all about botany.

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. Mark 11:22

Four words contain the response to Peter’s observation. No longer will you need to put your faith in fruitless systems that are out of step with Christ, trust in God. Jesus further explains that faith plus prayer is the formula needed for advancing the kingdom:

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

Lord, teach us to pray with this kind of faith. Help us to live with the complete belief that anything is possible with You. Let this be the season for bearing much fruit!

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