Early in the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” At once the fig tree withered.
First, I’d like to share a few facts about sycamore fig trees that I found interesting:
- This tree requires the help of the symbiotic fig wasp for it’s pollination; God designed it to only be pollinated by this one type of insect!
- It cannot self pollinate, which means the tree cannot be pollinated with its own pollen. Pollen from one tree must be taken to another tree. This is the all important job of the fig wasp! And since the life span of the fig wasp is only a few hours another fig tree must be close by.
- Every few months a mature sycamore fig tree can produce up to a ton of fruit!
- It appears not to flower; and so fruits “mysteriously”. The flowers are hidden inside a “secret garden” and are microscopic!
- The tree buds with these “secret gardens” before it leafs. Though these buds are not technically fruit they are edible.
- Different than the common fig, sycamore figs are not sold commercially. Because tending this tree is extremely difficult. They are sold in local markets, however, in Israel today.
I see layer upon layer of symbolism here. Let’s start off with the obvious: the lack of fruit. So, when Jesus saw this fig tree he automatically expected it to have something on it because it already had leaves on it. But when he got close to the tree he realized it was fruitless, barren. This tree was all full of show and yet had nothing worthwhile to give! It was a hypocrite! The scripture tells us he cursed the fig tree for it’s lack of sustenance, and it withered from the roots.
A further look at the greater context tells us of Jesus going into the temple and cleansing it of those who were taking advantage of the people. He said in Matthew 21:13,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
Here is the ‘fruitless’ tree! The Temple and all of it’s liturgy and ceremony, the people and all of their ritual practices, the leaders and all of their rule keeping, this was like the hypocritical fig tree. It had a big show, of fancy ‘leaves’ but there was no ‘fruit’. It was empty of its power and truth, void of the life giving Spirit of God. And you can read of the glory of God departing from the temple in Ezekiel 10. The Shekinah glory of God that once hovered in the Holy of Holies was gone!
In thinking through these passages, I could not help but wonder, how much like this fruitless fig tree is the ‘American’ church? We have a big, set production every week. There’s great form and liturgy. But is there power and truth? Is the Spirit present there or do we simply think he is pleased to show up at our services just because we are there? If he did show up, would we recognize him? Would we show deference to him and allow him to change the order of things? I wonder! Jesus, I desire to see your church acting like your church. Not being full of hypocrisy but truly being full of you! Revive your church, specifically in this nation and draw us close to you again. Amen.
Secondly, I couldn’t help but look for pockets of hypocrisy in my own life. I don’t want to be all full of showy ‘leaves’ and yet when Jesus comes to inspect for fruit, be found to have none! Jesus, I desire for your power, truth and life to be evident on my ‘tree’! I ask you to cultivate in me those things. Fill me up with you and only you. Amen.
Part 2 coming soon!