Day 181: Matthew 21:19, 21-22

You will never again bear fruit!

I assure you that if you believe and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I have done to this fig tree. And not only this, but you will even be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea,’ and it will. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

Here’s the whole story of “Jesus and the Fig Tree”:

On his way back to the city early next morning, Jesus was hungry.  He saw a fig tree by the side of the road and went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. So he said to the tree, “You will never again bear fruit!” At once the fig tree dried up.

The disciples saw this and were astounded. “How did the fig tree dry up so quickly?” they asked.  Jesus answered, “I assure you that if you believe and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I have done to this fig tree. And not only this, but you will even be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea,’ and it will.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:18-22).

After making a spectacular entrance to Jerusalem, Jesus spends his first night outside the city.  When he wakes up, he finds a fig tree that has leaves but no fruit.  He curses the fig tree and it dries up.  And there you have it.  Proof positive.  God hates figs. Cursed are the figs of the world for all time and cursed for all time are those who eat them.

Ok, yes, this is a joke that highlights the perils of inappropriate scriptural interpretation. Of course, Jesus isn’t talking about figs.  This is another prophetic act, like riding into town on a donkey (Day 178) or turning over the moneychangers’ tables (Day 179).  When he curses the fig tree is really making a commentary on his favorite topic, the state of the Jewish religious institution.  I think he is referencing the prophecy of Jeremiah:

“I wanted to gather my people, as a farmer gathers a harvest; but they are like a vine with no grapes, like a fig tree with no figs; even the leaves have withered. Therefore, I have allowed outsiders to take over the land.” (Jeremiah 8:13).

Jesus believed that the Jewish religious leaders, the sacrificial system, and the legalistic interpretation and implementation of the Law of Moses were not producing any fruit.  He felt there was a lot of showmanship but little spirituality.  He found no substance, no nourishment in it.  I like this picture above showing Jesus, the fig tree, and the temple in the background.  Very soon he will directly curse the Temple, just like he cursed the fig tree.  And the Temple will fall, along with the sacrificial system.  It will wither and die because it is barren just like the fig tree.

And then there is the second part of this scripture.  Once again the disciples don’t get it.  They don’t ask Jesus why he killed the poor fig tree.  Instead, they want to know how he killed the fig tree.  They don’t want to know the meaning of his action.  They just want to learn how to harness the power.

Once again he tries to impress upon the disciples the notion that they can change the world: “I assure you that if you believe and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I have done to this fig tree. And not only this, but you will even be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea,’ and it will.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Kind of leaves you speechless.  This is not the first time that he has said that we are capable of doing much more than we are willing to admit.  I’m reminded of his words on Day 134 when he says, “What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?” when Peter starts walking on the water, only to lose faith and begin to sink after a few steps.

Jesus never says that we are helpless or dependent on him to perform miracles for us.  He says that we have tremendous potential to change the world but we are reluctant to use it and it’s a significant source of frustration to him.  On Day 154 he says, “How unbelieving and wrong you people are! How long must I stay with you? How long do I have to put up with you?”  He gets tired of having people ask him for things that he things they should be able to do for themselves.

Jesus says we have the authority tell any obstacle (like the hill in this scripture) to get out of the way, just as he himself will tell that problematic Temple and those snarky religious leaders to get out of humanity’s way.  Jesus says we can curse any evil and dysfunctional thing (like that barren fig tree) and it will wither and die, just like he will curse the fruitless religious practices of his day and they will eventually disappear.  He says we can do things like that if we believe we can, if we exercise the power that each of us has been given.  We all have a voice. We all have skills and abilities.  We can be the agents of change that will make the world a better place.

What do I see that needs to be cursed?  Cancer?  Urban violence?  Homelessness?  Cruelty?  Hunger?  Greed?  What comes into your mind?  Nobody has to do everything, but everybody needs to do something.  Maybe one of the keys to a better world is a little less complacent resignation and a little more cursing.  Maybe that’s the first step anyway.

What does this scripture say to you?


 

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