(A few years ago, when I had only one child, wasn’t teaching, and had tons of free time, I attempted what now seems impossible to me: write a post a day during Easter week. For some reason, I’m under the delusion that I can achieve said goal again. So, if I fail, please don’t hold it against me!)
“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he (Jesus) was hungry. 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.” Mark 11:12-13
On the way into Jerusalem on Monday of Passion Week, Jesus uses breakfast as an opportunity to teach His disciples, and all of us, a very important lesson. And it’s not about breakfast choices.
First of all, this isn’t Jesus being upset that He couldn’t get a bite of a fig. Remember: HE’S GOD! This same Jesus walked on water, healed the blind, and turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into a meal for over 5,000. If He really wanted a fig, He’d have had a fig! That fig tree represented far more than a breakfast not tasted.
“Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers.” –Hosea 9:10
In many places in the OT, Israel is pictured as a fig tree. This can’t be an accident that Jesus, on His way in to turn the tables in the Temple, upsetting the religious elite of Jerusalem, makes this more than a coincidence. Jesus is making a diagnosis of the spiritual state of Israel.
As I understand it, fig trees bear fruit twice a year, in spring and fall. And while Mark tells us it was “not yet the season for figs”, fig trees bear fruit pretty quickly after their first leaves appear. This is Passover week, so it’s sometime late March, early April. A glance outside my own window shows trees in full bloom after a very cold winter. Jesus’ point is this: the tree had plenty of time to be bearing fruit by now, but it wasn’t. It looked healthy, but it was failing to do what it needed to do to continue to thrive: bear fruit. Israel was about to be told the same thing, by her King. “You look healthy,” Jesus is saying, “You’re doing all the right things outwardly, but inside, you’re dead. You’re not doing the things that show your faith is real.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” –Galatians 5:22-23
So what would Jesus say to us, the Church circa 2010? Are we like that fig tree, healthy looking on the outside, but fruitless? Religious, but faithless? Showy, but fake? Are we showing outward signs without inward reality? If Jesus was to inspect your fruit, and mine, would He see any signs of the list above? Or do we simply look like we’re playing the part? Do we know all the right things to say and do, but have no real relationship with Jesus? Are we the real deal, or the knock-off?