by Daniel McCabe
Cursing the Fig Tree
Mark 11:22, “Have faith in God.”
A soft April sun peeked over the mountains of Transjordan to spot a cluster of men climbing northwest up the backside of the Mount of Olives. It would be only a short uphill walk from Bethany where they stayed as guests in the home of Lazarus and his sisters to Bethphage at the crest of the hill where they would link up with the main road filled with Tuesday morning worshippers headed into Jerusalem for the Passover festivities. Olive and almond trees lined the hardened footpath beneath their rested legs, and the smell of young figs stirred the desire of hungry travelers.
Just ahead Jesus spotted a fig tree with leafy limbs, an outward sign of the presence of fruit, but upon closer examination, Jesus found none. Our Savior’s every step, every action and every word served a heavenly purpose. So when next we read that Jesus cursed that fig tree, predicting that it would never again bear fruit (Mark 11:14), we would be wrong to conclude that his disappointment at not getting to assuage his hunger led to a selfish tirade against that tree. The story as recorded in Matthew 21 and Mark 11 served to teach Jesus’ disciples about faith—not so much about figs or the lack of them. It teaches us too about faith.
If you’ve lived long enough, then you’ve known or heard about a preacher who delivered persuasive sermons on Sunday morning, but lived a secret life of sin from Monday through Saturday. As a preacher myself it’s a sad admission for me to make, but it happens. Or possibly you’ve heard about the pastor’s wife who murdered her husband to the surprise of all who knew her. Or about the award-winning middle school teacher charged with unspeakable crimes against those in his care. To any outside observer their lives looked exemplary, but external signs of health may belie a barrenness or rottenness within. Leaves should indicate figs ready for picking. Attending church, saying prayers and preaching sermons should indicate righteousness. But not always.
After cursing the fig tree, which promptly withered (11:21), Jesus and his disciples passed through the small village of Bethphage, whose name ironically means “house of the unripe figs,” descended down the western slope of the Mount of Olives and entered the “orchard” of Jerusalem. There they found the religious leaders publicly teaching the people and performing Passover rituals, while privately plotting Jesus’ death. Leafy lives of fruitlessness.
Adam and Eve once fashioned fig leaves into coverings in a desperate attempt to hide their nakedness, but in faith they traded their leaves for the skins of an animal whose blood had been shed by God to provide their covering (Genesis 3:7, 21).
You and I bear fruit as we seek each day to “have faith in God” (11:22). May we not be found barren at the coming of our Lord. May we instead bring him great joy and satisfaction when he finds our trees filled with fruit. Next time you see a fig tree, whether on the crest of the Mount of Olives in modern Bethphage or in your own backyard, let it stir you to live both a public and a private life of faith.
Further Reading: Matt. 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-26
Dr. Daniel McCabe is the pastor of Faith Bible Church in Spring, Texas. He is a contributing editor for The Jerusalem Connection Report. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.