The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 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. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
For most of my childhood, and for many years afterwards, my parents had a vegetable garden. It was not your typical garden with three tomato plants, a cucumber plant or two. No, this was a big garden.
And when I say big, I mean big. It took up a large portion of their quarter acre backyard. While they had about 20 tomatoes, they focused more on squash, green beans, beets, and broccoli.
It was the topic of conversation and work for most of the year. The rototiller came out and was tuned up early in the spring. We tilled the wet soil for the first planting while it was still cold. Then the fertilizing and planting followed by the weeding.
And then came the harvesting closely followed by the eating. After all, that’s the whole point of a vegetable garden. Without the harvesting and eating, the vegetable garden would be pointless. The same is true of a flower garden, without the beauty of the blossoms, it would be pointless.
Jesus sees a mature, healthy fig tree off in the distance. If it looks this good, it must have been well taken care of. Jesus saw that it was full of leaves, and this doesn’t happen by accident. It takes nurturing, fertilizing, watering.
He has to walk some distance before finally getting to the tree. And when he got there, he looked and looked for some figs. But the more he looked, the more carefully he went through every branch, pushing aside all those leaves, he found nothing. Not a single fig.
We’ve all done the same thing. We saw an opportunity off in the distance. We pinned our hopes and dreams on it. We traveled far and worked hard for it. It started to grow, there was change, things started to look like they were going to pan out.
But then, nothing. All that planning, all that investment, all that time and energy, didn’t produce what you had hoped or planned. All that wasted physical and emotional energy, and nothing to show for it.
Jesus, the perfect God-man, the creator and sustainer of the universe, the one who lived from eternity past before coming to earth as an infant, was hungry. And when he saw that there was no fruit, he does an odd thing – he talks to the tree, telling it that no one will ever eat any fruit from it.
I know that this is sometimes called the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree. And not to make too much from it, but Jesus doesn’t actually curse it. He speaks to it. He doesn’t ask God to condemn it, or for evil to come to it. He tells the tree that it will not produce fruit ever again.
The whole point of a fig tree isn’t to look pretty. The goal of a fig tree is not to hold soil in place to prevent erosion. Or to produce shade. The purpose of a fig tree is to produce figs. I know it sounds incredibly simple. After all;
Question – why call it a fig tree?
Answer – because it grows figs
If it doesn’t produce figs, then is it really a fig tree? I know that the correct, scientific answer is yes. It still has the shape, leaves, bark, and DNA of a fig tree.
But it’s not fulfilling its purpose, the reason it was made. It wasn’t made to get energy from the sun, drink in water and nutrients, only to grow and produce leaves.
In other words, the fig tree wasn’t made for itself. It wasn’t made to look nice. It wasn’t made to be taken care of, for all its needs to be handed to it by others. It wasn’t made to drink in the rain and sunshine provided by God.
It wasn’t made to receive all this, and more, and then just stop there. It was made to produce figs. And that’s the point.
So, what kind of a fig tree are you today? Are you just on the receiving side of love, grace, kindness, and mercy from God? Or are you producing fruit from that?
Are you just receiving nourishment from God’s word, God’s people, learning spiritual insights? Or are you producing fruit from that?
Without fruit, what will Jesus turn to us and say?
Are we coming to the point where God has invested so much into us that he’s about ready to cut us off because we’ve been fruitless? So self-absorbed with only ourselves and our “leaves” without pushing through to producing fruit?
Don’t be fruitless. Be fruitful.