Just outside our dining room window is an extremely pathetic nectarine tree.
Actually, when it comes to producing nectarines, it’s phenomenally successful. With its lack of leaves, hollowed out inner section, and floppy branches, however, it projects a wretched state of abject despondency that makes one think,
“That is a really loser tree.”
But like most quick conclusions, this one is inaccurate, because no matter how uncomely and unprepossessing the tree, it does fulfill the major function of its calling, in that in produces nectarines.
That’s the whole point, isn’t it — that the tree ultimately produce fruit, even if the tree itself is ugly? And yet, as humans, we gravitate toward the perfect tree, in full leaf, without fruit. If you struggle with a sense of inadequacy as a Christian, feeling that others actually do something for God while you do not, then please read the rest of this article at Some Days We Feel Pathetic, at BeliefNet’s Commonsense Christianity.
I read your articles often and I love and understand your point of view, but I’ve struggled often with this fig tree story.
Why did Jesus expect the tree to bear fruit when “it was not the season for figs”?
“When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.”
I could go on and on with questions. Why did he ruin a tree that was not in season? Even if it bore no fruit (because it was not the season for figs) it still provided shade for weary travelers, and in his country shade is almost important as shade. Why would he ruin a tree for other future travelers?
It sounds a lot like Jesus was tired, hungry, grumpy and not very understanding of the seasons.
I’d love to hear your thoughts — maybe some fruit for thought here?
Your friend and frequent reader,
Hi, Dave — your questions are great, and I agree with you about the confusion of why Jesus condemned a tree, for not having fruit, when it was not time to have fruit. This is one of these perplexing questions that we toss at God and say, “Will you please give me some elucidation on this?”
This very perplexing nature of this particular story is one reason I gave myself an “out,” by mentioning that there are many ways of looking at this story. There are, and we draw what we can from what we understand, and leave the rest for later as we grow, mature, and understand more. (The notes in my Bible mention that this fig tree appeared to be early in its leafage, implying that, while it was not the season for fruit, it wasn’t the season for full leafage, either. Most of the time, the notes are not this helpful.)
While it’s tempting to think that Jesus was tired, grumpy, and not aware of the seasons (and it sure sounds that way!) this is a good (but difficult) one to get past. When I read, I try to approach, always, with the idea that God is all good, all perfect, all knowing, all right — not always easy, quite frankly, because I am limited by my human interpretation. (a similarly difficult passage is Mark 6:48, in which Jesus, walking on water, was going to walk past the disciples, but stopped when they cried out. Why, I ask, would He walk past them when they were struggling in the boat? To interpret this, I read the other passages of the same event in different gospels, and draw insight from the composite total).
Okay — my main thought on the fig tree, and why Jesus withered it: it was in full foliage, full of leaves, and looking like it would produce, but its time was not ripe. Given the passage beforehand, regarding the cleansing of the temple, and the passages afterward, in which Jesus spars with the leaders of the Jews, I see this fig tree as the Jewish community, which looked like it was in full fruit, but wasn’t, because it was not time to bear fruit.
“May no one eat fruit from you again,” could mean, “May no one draw spiritual sustenance from the Old Testament Jewish law again,” because Jesus amended the covenant, and salvation and grace — true fruit — is now upon us. The Jews themselves are not tossed aside, but presently being in a state of not accepting Christ as the Messiah, they are a fully foliaged tree without the fruit, and what they have to offer, in light of Christ, does not provide that fruit. May no one eat fruit from that tree again, because it’s not the fruit that saves, heals, and brings joy.
Whatever the meaning of this is, it is multi-layered, and one that will unfold itself bit by bit, as we reflect and meditate. Jesus Himself makes us aware of this process when He expresses so much of what He teaches in parables (which had to be explained, frequently, to the disciples closest to Him — an extreme comfort to the rest of us) — from this we can gather that spiritual truth is 1) simple and 2) really complex, and because it is not one dimensional, it takes time, time, and much time to be disclosed to us.
I hope this helps. Back at me with your thoughts! — Carolyn