Faith and Figs

Easter Advent Week 4

We all have heard about Jesus’ anger at the temple when He overturned the tables, but can we take a moment to discuss how He randomly cursed a fig tree? I say randomly because this fig tree really isn’t doing anything wrong. Jesus is hungry and looking for some breakfast, but it’s not the season for figs. So when he doesn’t find figs, instead of making the tree randomly produce fruit for Him (He has already multiplied food multiple times), He curses it. This to me is very intriguing and I’ve picked up on a few interesting tidbits, so stay with me.

“On the following day (After the Triumphal Entry), when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.” (Mark 11:12-14.)

When I first read this, my interpretation was: Jesus got hangry! This simple fact made me happy. Whenever I’m reminded of Jesus’ humanness, I realize anew how Jesus truly understands our struggles. It says in Hebrews 4:15. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” When Jesus was frustrated with the human experience of hunger and took it out on the fig tree, he wasn’t sinning. You know what this means? I don’t have to feel guilty for making my pillows go deaf by screaming into them when my kids drive me crazy. But it also leads me to another conclusion.

I must be careful with my words and where I direct my frustration. This was the same day that Jesus flipped the table at the temple in anger. This temple was special to Jesus- it’s where God’s special presence at the time dwelt. And in Luke 2:41-51, we find the boy Jesus calling it His father’s house. It was a second home. Even though He disciplined the money changers and merchants harshly, He never cursed them. 

Why would Jesus utter curses at all? We think of God as benevolent and kind; a dispensary of blessings. And He does often promise blessings, but, truth is, we also serve a God who sent the angel of death over Egypt, let Satan wreck Job, commanded the Israelites to destroy the inhabitants of the land, made a king go crazy for a few years, and then cursed a fig tree. When we look at these events in the Bible, it can make God seem like a bad guy at some points. But we need to check what our definitions of good and bad are. 

See, often we think of good as kind, pleasant, forgiving, and peaceful. Evil, on the other hand, is murderous, cruel, painful, chaotic, and unpleasant. But what really determines good and evil are not those feelings or emotions or even ideas, but who God is and what is in His will or not. This little nugget of theology God claims in Isaiah 45:7. “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” God does not rejoice over your pain, but he also doesn’t let it go to waste. He will use it to teach and grow you.

That’s exactly what Jesus did with our fig tree scenario. The next day, when the disciples see the Fig tree actually withered, they’re amazed. After walking with Jesus for about three years and witnessing countless miracles, this was the first “negative” miracle they’d seen. Jesus takes their shock and uses it as a teaching moment.

“As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’” (Mark 11:20-25).

When we pray, therefore, we mustn’t doubt. But then again, we’ve all heard that a mustard seed of faith can move mountains. “He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.’” (Matthew 17:20). So which is it? Well, let me propose that perhaps Jesus didn’t only mean, “You just need to have a teensy bit of faith,” but also that this mustard seed represents a desire to grow our faith. A seed won’t do anything unless planted. Likewise, our faith won’t grow and produce results unless put under trials of trust to grow it. 

Sitting here in the 21st century, those words are just as hard to believe as they were in the 1st century. But Jesus used the example of cursing the fig tree to drive home this point of what our faith can do. Our words are the driving force of our lives. When we pray without doubting that God will work any situation out for His good, it will happen. That is the lesson on faith from figs.

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