The Fruitless Fig Tree

At Dawn Jesus and his disciples were leaving Bethany and journeying towards the city of Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus seeing a fig tree went towards it expecting to find fruit. He went up to the tree but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. – Matthew 21:19. Why did Jesus curse the Fig tree? Mark, in his account of the incident clearly states that it wasn’t the season for figs. This makes this incident even more puzzling and it is often misinterpreted by many. Did Jesus curse the fig tree because he was famished?

Bethany was the hometown of Lazarus, Martha and Mary where Jesus often stayed. Jesus could have stayed in Jerusalem itself but chose to come to this family’s house. Such was the hospitality shown by Martha and Mary. It is hard to believe that these sisters would have let the disciples and Jesus to leave for Jerusalem without a proper meal. Moreover how can someone, who wasn’t hungry when five thousand people were, be famished on a two and half mile journey from Bethany to Jerusalem. So Jesus must be teaching the disciples something through this illustration. Similar instances can be found when Jesus was showing the faith of the Canaanite woman to his disciples saying  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” – Matthew 15:26. Here also Jesus was teaching the disciples an important lesson in faith using the fig tree as an example.

In the old testament the Fig tree was symbolically used by many prophets. Jeremiah says “I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD; “There will be no grapes on the vine And no figs on the fig tree, And the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away.” – Jeremiah 8:13. On similar lines, Prophets like Joel, Habakkuk and Haggai have written about a barren fig tree.

The fig fruit is believed to be of great medicinal value. Doctors advise on regular intake of this fruit as it prevents cancer, controls blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. Fig even healed the life threatening boils of Hezekiah after he rubbed it on his wounds. (Isaiah 38:21). Jesus was not looking for these magical powers of this fruit. He needed it to fulfil its basic purpose, cure His hunger. God created everything for a specific purpose. If His creations achieve something that is beyond their purpose then it is Great, but what if they forget the basic purpose for which they were created. Jesus says “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” – Luke 14:34. A fig tree can either bear good fruit , bad fruit or bear no fruit at all. It is the same in our lives too. We can bear good fruit, bad fruit or no fruit.

Good and Bad fruit bearing trees

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. – Saint Basil

Like a tree is known by its fruits, so are human beings judged by their actions. “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”- Luke 6:43-45.

The Fruitless Fig Tree

And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. “And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’… Luke 13:6-7. We may think minding our own business and getting on this world is good enough. But a life without deeds is like a barren fig tree. Jesus uses a barren fig tree as an example, to teach his disciples about a life without deeds. A similar fate is awaiting a barren life.

Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. – Mark 13:28. Jesus on seeing the leaves of the fig tree went towards it expecting to find figs, but couldn’t find any. The parable of the barren fig tree is a reminder to all of us that we are accountable for our good, bad and even fruitless deeds. The fig tree may have tender branches and have plenty of leaves that provides shade to the passersby, but a fig tree’s sole purpose is to bear figs. If the tree remains barren it will be chopped down. And for those who are growing tired of doing good and feel under-appreciated or maybe think that their deeds are of no use to their fellow beings , Paul writes –  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9

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