Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.
The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree
20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
January 2007 was a pretty eventful month for me. I had just graduated college, moved across the country, started a new job, and was due to get married. As she and her parents helped me get settled in my new apartment before heading back to Ohio for her own wedding preparations, my beautiful bride-to-be took a look at my nearly opaque skin and said something along the lines of, “You are going to look like a ghost in our wedding pictures, you might want to do something about that.” Eager to do my part to make our special day all that it could be, after they boarded the van and headed back north, I found a local tanning salon and set out to darken my complexion. I explained my situation to the young girl at the counter and she gave a knowing nod, instructing that I start out at 15 minutes in the bed and come back every week until the wedding. Although I was extremely uncomfortable with the entire idea of subjecting my body to fake sun, my one saving grace was that because I had just moved to the state a few days before, hardly anyone in town knew who I was. I would be able to gradually get the tan I desired and maybe no one would notice.
Fast forward to around 11pm that evening, when I began to feel a sensation unlike anything in my life. I would find out the next day that a first session in a tanning bed, depending on skin type, is anywhere in the range of 1 to 3 minutes, certainly never to exceed 5. My 15 minutes in the bed had successfully transformed my skin tone from Casper the Ghost into Clifford the Big Red Dog. I had been sunburned before, but never to this extent, and never over my entire body all at the same time. With every passing moment the pain grew more and more intense; at first every square inch of my body throbbed, then burned, but worst of all was the itching. I tried alternating hot and cold showers, which temporarily alleviated the discomfort for a few moments before coming back with a vengeance. I hopped in the car and made my way to a local big box store in search of anything that might help, only to be dismayed to discover that it closed at midnight. Without the benefit of knowing my way around town, or mobile internet, I drove through the empty city streets like a madman for what felt like hours before I mercifully found a 24-hour pharmacy. After talking with the pharmacist, I loaded up on aloe, lidocaine lotion, and over the counter pain medication and finally began to experience some relief. The next morning I called the tanning salon and explained what happened, to which the manager profusely apologized for her employee’s mistake and offered a complimentary t-shirt and gift certificate for a future session as a token of their sincerity.
As Jesus and the disciples headed from Bethany to Jerusalem, He grew hungry and so naturally headed toward a nearby fig tree. The tree looked beautiful from a distance, full of leaves, but there was just one problem, fig season was not for several more weeks. Mark knew that, the disciples knew that, and Jesus knew it too. So it was no surprise that when Jesus arrived at the tree, He found lush leaves, but no figs. But what was incredibly surprising was that Jesus cursed the tree for having no figs, even though He knew it had no figs and that it was not the time for figs.
Over the years some Bible commentators have seen this event as problematic. It has been described as ignorant, childish, and even selfish. If Jesus was truly God, He would have known enough to not look for out-of-season fruit. There was no reason to become angry at an inanimate object that was simply operating according to its design. It certainly shocked the disciples, who took note and must have started to wonder whether Jesus was finally allowing the pressure of the Pharisees and the crowds to finally get to Him. Was Jesus going mad after all these years?
But Jesus wasn’t mad, at least not at the tree. He was actually using the tree as a visual parable to explain what was happening just up the road at the temple in Jerusalem. When they arrived at the temple, they encountered a scene that had Jesus’ blood boiling. Millions of people had traversed to the city for passover, and the temple courtyards were filled with a mass of humanity, animals for sacrifice, and lecherous merchants and moneychangers salivating over the chance to make some easy money.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote that for Passover in the year AD 65 that there were over 250,000 lambs offered at the temple in Jerusalem. Those who traveled from faraway lands were unable to offer their foreign currency, imprinted with images of pagan royalty and deity, in their sacrificial offering, so the chief priest and his family conveniently set up booths offering money exchange services at far less than fair value.
The temple was a strange mix between a state fair, cattle auction, open market, and wall street. There were people, animals, and merchant stands packed into every nook and cranny. Even the outer Temple courtyard, known as the Court of Gentiles, was being used as a shortcut for faster access to different parts of the city. Jesus saw the mess that had been made of His Father’s house and responded in kind. He began flipping over tables and chairs, forbidding entrance to those who attempted to come in an unworthy manner, and taught all who could hear that the temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations, not an opportunity to make easy money at the expense of the faithful.
When they passed back by the tree in the morning, Mark notes that incredibly the tree had already “withered away to its roots”. What had just the day before looked great on the outside was now rotten to the core. The city, the temple, and all those who had permitted it to waste away in spiritual decay, were nothing more than a barren tree.
Jesus is saying, “This is what you are, O Jerusalem! You have all the outward markings of growth and vitality, but inside you are completely lacking in fruit.” Jesus’ constant warnings to the Pharisees was that they looked great in comparison to others, on the outside they checked all the boxes, but inwardly they were nothing more than a pile of bones. Their hearts were cold and hard towards God, and if they wanted to experience true life, they needed to be complete born again.
So what about us? When the Lord looks at us, what does He see? We can easily impress others with our actions, but the Lord looks beyond the external and straight to the heart. Are we producing the fruit of the Spirit internally? Do we have a genuine love for God and His people? Or are we only concerned with how we are perceived? All truth will be ultimately be revealed in the light of the Son, and nothing will ease the discomfort of those in search of a cheap tan.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You know and see all things. Every moment, every word, every thought is laid bare before You. We ask that You would open our eyes to the truth of who we are, that we might confess all our fears and failures to You and to one another, that we might turn from our sin and find mercy in Your holy name. We thank You that we can, along with all the nations, come before You in prayer. We believe that You hear every single cry of our hearts, and there is hope for all who place their trust in You. We pray in Your awesome name. Amen.