Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Fig Tree

When Jesus is in the environs of Jerusalem prior to the Passover of His death, He spends time in the city, but apparently spends evenings outside the walls, in one or more of the small towns in the vicinity. It is coming into Jerusalem from one of these small towns that Jesus sees a fig tree and goes over to it.

When Jesus gets to the fig tree, He searches through its leaves, looking for figs apparently. Finding no figs, He curses the tree saying that no one will ever eat figs from it again. We find out later that the tree withers and dies.

None of this seems overly out of place. That is until we reach the phrase “It wasn’t the time for figs.” What? That simply doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t time for figs and yet Jesus curses the tree for not having any figs on it. Surely the creator of the universe knew that it wasn’t fig season. No, this story now takes on an almost laughable and confounding aspect.

How are we to accept the text as written? How will we correlate Jesus looking for figs on a tree outside of fig season? The answer it seems is that Jesus surprised the fig tree. Yes, that’s right. Jesus surprised the fig tree.

The fig tree is symbolic of Jerusalem. The tree is simply being a tree. It is responding slavishly to the seasons, the warmth, the length of days, and the amount of water it receives. So are the people in Jerusalem. The people are simply living life. They celebrate births, and weddings, mourn deaths, go to work, get drunk, take trips, and whatever else a first century Jew might do.

Just as the fig tree was not “looking” for God to arrive, the people of Jerusalem were not expectant of the arrival of their king, their redeemer, their God. Jesus is going to check for fruit in their lives and the corporate lives of the Jewish people. Whether they are ready or not, God has arrived, and He will curse those who are not prepared for His arrival.

And so Jesus surprises the fig tree just as He will surprise the people of Jerusalem. He will find little if any fruit, and their judgment is the same as that of the fig tree. Jerusalem will be destroyed because when its God came to find fruit, He didn’t find any.

Let him who has ears to hear, understand the symbol of the fig tree.

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