For today, I’m basing my Scriptural references from Matthew 21:18 to 23:38.
To start this post, we have a very unusual story. The morning after the Temple cleansing, Jesus and company were going from Bethany to Jerusalem; Jesus was staying in Bethany for the Passover (probably with Mary and Martha). As he was walking down the road, hungry, Jesus spotted a fig tree. Jesus was looking for some fruit, however the fig tree had none, only leaves (or “early in season” per Mark). Jesus then cursed the fig tree, proclaiming that no one will eat from it again. And to his disciples’ amazement, the fig tree withered up instantly. When the disciples asked about what happened, Jesus gave what appeared to be very weird reply,
Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen.kI You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” Matthew 21: 21 and 22 (NLT)
As we progress in the above text, we see Jesus arguing with the religious leaders and with the people while Teaching in the Temple. For the most part, Jesus spoke in parables that conveyed truths about the Kingdom of God. Through parables and direct indictments, Jesus blasted the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders that act “holy” but are really “fakin’ the funk” as we used to say. In fact, in Matthew 23, Jesus gets ugly when he puts the leaders on blast. Jesus also gave parables to the crowds about God’s Kingdom. In essence, Jesus became the new teacher and leader for Israel; basically putting the other leaders to pasture.
You can read the above passage for additional details (also Mark 11 and 12, and Luke 20) since I just wanted to give a snapshot version.
As I began to pore over the above passage, I see two things that the writers (via Jesus) were trying to convey to us.
First: the fig tree was representative of the religious leaders. They were fruitless men who did not satisfy the spiritual hunger of the people they were ordained to lead. Many people today-like back then-are spiritually hungry. People are hurting for the truth, but when they go to most churches, they’re never fed. So these poor souls go about, from church to church, looking for a nourishing prophetic voice to feed their souls. Jesus’s curse, was later reflected in his judgement upon the leaders. In fact at the end of the above text we read Jesus’s sad words in Matthew 23:38:
And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.
Boom! Are we being the nourishing agents for those seeking love and Divine validation in a spiritually famished society? Or, are we “not in season”? Many of our churches are just like Jesus said: abandoned and desolate; no matter how many members or how much tithes are collected.
Second: after Jesus curses the fig tree, we read the above reply about faith in God. Why would Jesus reply in such a manner. Then I realized that Jesus was preparing his disciples for future encounters with “unproductive fig trees”-religious people who don’t bear fruit to feed the spiritually hungry in the world. Jesus wanted his disciples to have the “mountain-moving” faith in God to navigate through such dangerous people as they reach out to those who need God’s love the most. Also that they will have the power to put the unproductive in check.
Do we have that faith today? That God can empower the dangerous to reach out to those among us needing God, not religion? That God can empower us to speak against unproductive “fig trees” and wither them before they try to stop us and the hungry from coming together? As we see evangelicals seduced by political power here in the US, this is all the more urgent.
Don’t become a withered “fig tree” and be cursed. Be like Jesus who had the faith (trust) in the Divine to stand up to and put in check the unproductive religious leaders of his day.