(Original series written Easter of 2020 during the beginning months of COVID-19.)
As we enter into the second day of Holy Week and our fifth week of social distancing, let us be reminded of what comes with this season: new life! The Springtime trees and flowers cry out this message with glorious colors and perfumes. Today we will read about a fruit tree that bore a flourish of green but was missing something big.
Read: Matthew 21:18-22
Does your tree have leaves, but no fruit?
Lent is a season of self-examination. It calls us to look inward and prune away anything that keeps us from loving God with our whole lives and from loving our neighbors as ourselves. In the passage from this morning, Jesus finds a fig tree that is seasonally early in it’s blooming. The tree is full of lush leaves that has Jesus expecting mature fruit, but when he finds none, he curses the tree to wither. This feels a bit outside of Jesus’ character, the loving Savior who let the little children come to him and who broke bread with sinners. Every time I read this story I always feel a little bad for the fig tree and, dare I say, even judge Jesus for his harsh reaction. But this scene is powerful when viewed within the larger context of scripture. It ends up being an enacted parable. Here’s a little backstory. There will be a lot of scripture but bear with me (pun intended)
In the Hebrew scriptures, the nation of Israel is often described as a vineyard, tree, or a planting (Judges 9:8-15; Psalm 80:8, 9) which is planted by God himself. From these efforts, He anticipates a harvest (Psalm 1:3; Jer. 17:8-10). Israel’s fruitfulness is not based on their relationship with God. Rather it is a blessing for their obedience (Deut 7:13), however this can, in turn, also become a curse of fruitlessness due to their rebellion (Deut 11:17). Born fruit is ultimately a sign of Israel’s spiritual health. The prophets often describe God looking to harvest the fruit of Israel but, finding none (Jer. 8:13; Hosea 9:10-17), pouring out judgement of barrenness and sending them into exile (Jer. 29:17).But there is always still hope! For after each judgment, God promises to replant and bring health to the nation of Israel once again (Joel 2:22; Zech 8:12; Ez 36:8).
Coming back to the present moment, God’s people are looking for that health and restoration. Jesus has made his victorious march into Jerusalem; the people are thrilled that their salvation has come and believe it is time for them to be replanted, built up. But Jesus has been among these people, he knows that if God goes to harvest the fruits of His people He will, once again, find no fruit. Once among them, Jesus found a “den of thieves” (Matt 21:13) all show and no substance. Just like the fig tree, Israel has missed the point of what it means to bear fruit and instead merely created an appearance (Is. 58:1-6).
The message of the fig tree isn’t just a historical message, it’s for us, the church today! Jesus uses the living example of the fig tree, and multiple parables, to illustrate that the fruit God’s people are to bear is spiritual (Matt 8:3-10; Luke 3:7-10; John 15:1-17). Rather than focus on the historical tree of Israel, Jesus considers the new vines, those that will ultimately carry out the mission of the church. When Jesus issues his curse and his disciples ask why, he responds with a talk about prayer. Why do you think that is? Because God calls his church, the new vines, to bear the fruit of faith and our faith is directly affected by prayer.
The tendency and temptation to fake fruit is real for us and for the church. We are so afraid to show the world our brokenness that we often cover it up and present to the world our best, flashy, put-together selves. Let the fig tree be a warning to us that presenting a lively-looking plant devoid of fruit to the world is nothing but death but bearing fruit is a sign of life; not just that, it’s a sign of His life in us! For we are not the ones who can grow this fruit on our own, God himself promises that when we are connected to Him, we will bear the fruit of faith! Let us stop right now and confess our leafy presentations and lean into the promises of fruit that comes only from staying connected to Him!
Put out a bowl of dried fruit. Use figs if you can find them, otherwise use whatever dried fruit you have around the house. Eat this throughout the day as a symbol that God not only expects fruits but promises to produce fruit that comes from our connection to Him. Say this simple prayer:
“Lord, thank you for the fruit of faith that comes only from staying connected to the True Vine.”
Edited by Jessica Wilson