I wrote an essay on this lesser known Gospel story, and thought I would share it here.
Now, I know that this weekend everybody is going to be talking about the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Atonement, but I thought I would talk about a much lesser known incident from that week that really doesn't get talked about all that much. In fact, I don't recall hearing about it until I actually sat down and read the Gospels myself, and then I was a little confused by it. I thought I might introduce it here, describe it briefly, introduce a couple explanations I think are...inelegant, if you will, then supply what I feel to be the most logical and satisfying reasoning.
There is, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, an incident that really confused me, because it seemed out of place: While in Jerusalem during his last week, Christ is looking for some food when he comes upon a fig tree which has no fruit. He then proceeds to curse the fig tree and in short order, it withers and dies.
Now I don't know much about fig trees, but it seemed to me that this was a rather petulant response to not getting fed, especially since the tree was apparently out of season at the time. It didn't seem very Christ-like. So I proceeded to do a little research.
I found a number of things about fig trees, a number of rather unsatisfying answers, and one that feels just right.
Let's start with the fig trees. Apparently, fig trees put out little edible "pre-fruit" when the tree is in leaf, which this tree was. In addition, there is often edible fruit left hanging on the tree from the prior season, especially since figs are generally eaten dried, like raisins, only better. This tree had leaves, but no pre-fruit, nor did it have any of the last year's fruit still hanging. This indicates the tree was barren, giving no fruit the prior season, nor the season to come.
Now, I know that trees are pretty, and they give shade, and they release oxygen into the air, but in the context of this story, this particular tree was useless, unnecessary, except for the larger point for which Christ was going to use it.
The first of the unsatisfying answers has to do with the tree being a a warning to the Nation of Israel. You can find many of these online, most of which have to do with the warnings that Christ gave to the Pharisees earlier in His ministry. The idea is that since Israel had failed to follow Him, it was doomed to wither and die. The problem with this is that there is nothing in the syurrounding text that would support this as the reason He had in mind at the time. It's inelegant and unsatisfying.
The second answer that I found unsatisfying is that this was a warning to the Apostles that THEY should be fruitful or face His wrath. I think this one doesn't hold up under any sort of smell test. It just doesn't FEEL right, does it? Christ threatening the Apostles to bear fruit or He'd wither them? At this point, it seems that, even if they weren't sure of the details, the Apostles were pretty set as far as what they would be doing and how they would be doing it. In addition, they did what they did out of love for Christ, not because they had been threatened to or else.
Like I said, not very satisfying.
In the end, the real answer came, once again, almost as a throwaway in Talmadge's Jesus the Christ. He really didn't spend a whole lot of time on it, but a little reflection and prayer will allow one to see how monumental this Truth really is.
Throughout all the Gospels, in His earthly ministry, Christ performed many miracles, each and every one BUT ONE an act of healing or other benefit, such as turning water to wine. The Cursing of the Fig Tree is the one miracle that had a negative outcome for the subject it was performed on. Why?
We see numerous occasions of Christ laying on hands to heal the sick, the crippled, the blind, the lame. There is more than one occasion on which He raised the dead, the most notable being His friend Lazarus, who was restored to life after three days in the grave.
On this one occasion, Christ showed that He not only held the power to bestow good health and life in His hands, but the power to destroy and cause death.
Why is this important? Because in the context of the story of His life, this comes right at the end. almost immediately prior to all the bad stuff. Everything that comes after: The Betrayal, The Trials, The Scourging, The Humiliation, The Crucifixion, all of it could have been stopped by Him at any point. He could have looked at Herod: DEAD. Pilate: DEAD, the Pharisees: DEAD, Judas Iscariot: DEAD. Yet he chose to allow them to do what they did to Him. Nothing that was done to Him was done without His consent. It doesn't make the actions of those involved any less terrible, but He allowed to happen that which had to happen, in order to further the plan of His Heavenly Father.
So, this weekend, as you consider the events of nearly 2000 years ago, reflect on the fact that the Man who suffered and died for your sins could have stopped the proceedings at any time. This was not a stone set in motion, rolling downhill, picking up speed to become unstoppable: It was a preplanned, preordained, foretold occurrence that could nonetheless have been stopped at any moment by the Subject at the center of the storm.
Why did He do it? To pay the ransom for the sins of all those who would believe in Him. It is humbling to believe that He cares enough about me to do that. Do you believe you are worthy of His sacrifice? In all honesty, I don't understand how I could be, but He believes I am, and that is all that matters.