If you are reading through the Gospels of Matthew or Mark this Holy Week, you can’t help but miss what many Bibles label as “The Cursing of the Fig Tree.”
It’s a story I like to skip over, but mostly because I haven’t understood it.
I know it’s just a tree, but my empathy kicks in big time with each re-reading of the account. This poor tree, growing there, not bothering anyone, when Jesus comes along, hungry as he returned to the city from Bethany where he had stayed the night. He saw the tree from a distance, full of leaves, and went to it for its fruit. The closer he got, though, he found nothing! Leaves, but no fruit, so he cursed the tree so that it would never bear fruit again.
Wasn’t that unfair? Maybe that just wasn’t the season of bearing fruit! What did the tree do wrong?
I wondered if maybe Jesus was overreacting until I read in a commentary a while back that normally the leaves and the fruit appear at the same time. There really was a problem with this tree. It appeared to be healthy — full leaves, adequate sun, proper location — but despite these blessings, it failed to yield the one thing it was created to give: fruit.
Now in this account, Jesus used the fig tree to make a point. It serves as an illustration of the rejection of Israel, a nation that was given every advantage but still remained unfruitful.
But I wonder about us. We might have every advantage out there. Maybe we were raised by Christian parents. We might have 10 Bibles lining our shelves. Perhaps we go to church and even get involved! We might know the right things to say and the appropriate things to do, but none of that is what will save us and make us fruitful.
If you’re following along in Clean on the Inside: A Family Devotional for Holy Week, this is a similar idea to what we read about with the “whitewashed tombs.” The Pharisees appeared righteous on the outside: observing the law and keeping up appearances, but inside, they were full of sin! They had not been cleaned on the inside!
We, too, might look good on the outside doing all sorts of religious activities, but Jesus looks at the heart. Apart from Jesus, we can not be saved!
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We can bear fruit, but the fruit that God is looking for comes not from ourselves. It comes from Christ dwelling in us!
For those of us who have believed in Jesus as our Savior, I believe there is an application here for us, too. Maybe I’m reading into it a little, but I take this story to heart. There is a little part of me that wonders what type of fruit Jesus would see if He looked at my life. Would he see any?
Does my life appear fruitful from a distance but upon closer inspection reveal a barren life, lacking the fruit God created me to grow?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
It’s not necessarily about doing more. In fact, for some of us, it will mean doing less. Fruit is not the result of our doing. It is the result of our abiding.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
If we are to bear fruit in our lives, if we are to be more than just a tree with leaves, we must abide in Christ and walk by the Spirit.
“For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
Question for you:
Where are you on the “abiding scale” today? Are you struggling with what it means to remain in Christ or walk by the Spirit, or is the Spirit producing fruit in your life?
If you are struggling, how can we pray for you or what questions do you have?
If you are abiding, share what that looks like in your life. How are we to abide in Christ?