12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25 NIV)
Jesus uses the example of the fig tree to teach about faith and prayer. Included is this short teaching on forgiving others and our need to be forgiven to be heard (?)
In between these passages Jesus cleanses the temple of the money-changers. Commentaries on this unit see the fig tree story as related to the temple and its ultimate destruction – the fig tree is judged and found wanting, so will be the temple and its administration.
The fig tree should not have had figs since it was out of season – why does Jesus curse it??
This story has always bothered me – in particular, the phrase “because it was not the season for figs (v. 13). If we just read the parts quoted here, Jesus comes across as petty at best. Others have used the word “petulant.”
One lesson here is that we always have to read the entire story to understand it – the story of Jesus cleansing the temple lies between the beginning and ending so it is part of the same story. Mark wants us to see the cursing of the fig tree in light of judgment on the temple.
The application is, for me, that God is not arbitrary or petty or vindictive. God acts with reason and care, with grace and love – and also to call to account. We turn God into a devil if we are not careful to understand that the Scriptures say and why. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to see that the story in the middle connects to the story around it.
For faith – one of the things Jesus raises here – it means that our faith is greater than what happens to our icons and idols. The temple will be destroyed in 70 AD. Faith will not!
This scene also reminds me to remember my own sin (remembering that in the temple scene Jesus accuses and drives out the money-changers). My sin is as real as theirs, my judgment from God is tempered by divine love, grace, and truth.
O Lord, bless me today with the kind of insight needed to read your word aright. Show me my blinders and my blindness when I see only what I can instead of what you want to reveal. Extend that sight to my own sin, to my own lack of faith, to my own pettiness. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.