My wife picked ripe, juicy figs from our brown turkey fig tree this morning. As we ate them for breakfast, I could see the deeply loped leaves fanning out and twisting and swaying in the breeze. I knew that fruit appears about the same time as the leaves. Thus leaves normally point to the prospect of fruit, even if not yet fully ripened.
This reflection made my mind fast forward to Matthew’s account of Jesus cursing a fig tree. “Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again.’ Immediately the tree withered” 21:19. When his disciples saw the results of the curse, they were shocked and speechless.
Jesus knew there was no fruit under the leaves, so the lack of fruit didn’t take him by surprise. But why the curse? Since the disciples had witnessed Jesus earlier giving life back to the ruler’s daughter, then why couldn’t he take life from the fig tree? They still could not grasp the power of the carpenter’s son whom they agreed to follow. He spoke and the ruler’s daughter was restored to life; he spoke and the fig tree died. Life and death were in his voice, just a command away.
Again, why the curse? Jesus chose to teach his disciples that an outward show, that professing to be what one is not, is like an actor, a great pretender. He used no subtlety. Instead, he abruptly showed how he and his Father hate pretense. The God who created the fig tree cursed it so that his followers got the message. False faith leads to death–eternal death–and he gave an object lesson in the material world to help them grasp a spiritual truth.
I wonder if God ever wants to curse the play-acting in us 21st century Christians when he looks for the fruit of the Spirit and all he finds are deeply loped leaves, twisting and swaying in the breeze?
To his disciples he is saying, “How I long for the ripe, juicy figs of my life in each of you.”
If you had been one of the twelve, how do you think you would have responded to Jesus’ “curse”?