But since it is Holy Week, the celebration of Christianity’s central proclamation, I thought I’d open the floodgates of my thoughts walking through Jesus’ last week. I’m using Matthew’s account.
Monday – the day after Palm Sunday, Matthew records Jesus returning from Bethany (on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives) back to Jerusalem for a day sparring with the leading priests and elders. (Matthew 21:17-18, 23) But on the way, Jesus stops to relieve his hunger at a fig tree. (Maybe he missed breakfast.) He went to find figs, but there were only leaves, so he curses it, “May you never bear fruit again!” and the fig tree withers. (Matthew 21:19) The season for figs begins in June. This is the Monday before Passover, March-April. So it isn’t time for figs. Why does Jesus curse a fig tree for not having figs when it isn’t time to have figs?
I have read that the fig tree begins to produce pre-figs, taqsh, which are edible, but fall off as the real figs begin to form. If the fig tree doesn’t have taqsh, then it won’t have figs, and is therefore barren and hopeless for the season. Could it be that Jesus sees in this fig tree a symbol of Judiasm and Israel, since he has already begun to share with his disciples since Matthew 16 that he will go to Jerusalem and be crucified?
There is an interesting verse among the prophets, Micah 7:1, where God says: “How miserable I am! I feel like the fruit picker after the harvest who can find nothing to eat. Not a cluster of grapes or a single early fig can be found to satisfy my hunger.” Micah is talking about God’s assessment of Israel’s spiritual state. The lack of honest and godly people is the source of God’s hunger. God’s misery is casused by Israel’s corruption (Micah 6:10-13) and a day of judgement is coming. Israel careless way of keeping (or not keeping) God’s commands had degenerated into corruption and idolatry. Once filled with the promises to Abraham and to David, Israel now is barren and hopeless.
The cursing of a fig tree by Jesus is fulfillment of God’s unsatisfied hunger in Micah 7:1. The cursing of the fig tree is a cursing of, not only the barreness of Israel/Judaism, but of all human attempts to manipulate the holy God to pardon their offenses without honest, fruitful repentance. Jesus finds no figs, and among us, he finds no one worthy. And since none of us are worthy, Friday is just 4 days away.
Is Jesus still hungry when He looks at our lives? Has repentance replaced posturing? Am I barren and hopeless? There is no hope for us if we are fig trees with no figs. John the Baptist at the beginning of Jesus ministry warned the people: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) Repentance looks different that non-repentance. You can’t change and still do what you’ve always done. God isn’t fooled. I know because I’ve tried.
Hope isn’t in finding figs on a cursed tree trying to manufacture fruit that isn’t there. Hope is in finding a God on a tree, who allowed Himself to be cursed for my sake. (Galatians 3:13) I can imagine that Jesus as he looked at that barren fig tree thought of His own tree that would bear fruit for you and me.