Fig Trees and Money Tables

I am often amazed how each time I read the Bible, I discover new things  that make me ask “what is that piece of the story all about?” Or “have those words always been there?” As I look at some different pieces of the Holy Week story, there are some things that I have overlooked because of all that is going on. I want to focus on a couple of them today.

After the fanfare of His arrival, Jesus and the disciples are staying at Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The next day, He and the disciples were going back into the city. The Bible tells us in Mark 11.12 that Jesus was hungry, so he approaches a fig tree which was covered with leaves. Now I am not a great fig tree mind, but the amplified bible suggests that leaves and fruit appear at the same time on a fig tree. But as He arrives at the tree, there are no figs to be found because it was “not in season”. Still, Jesus curses the tree saying, “no one ever again shall eat fruit from you.”(verse 14). My first thought is, why would Jesus be expecting figs if the tree was not in season. This is when I learned about the Breba Crop, that many fig trees produce more than 1 crop of fruit each year. One of those crops grows out of season and is marked by mature branches full of leaves. So a leafy tree with no fruit would be disappointing, and Jesus curses this one.  The next morning, (fast forward to vs 20), the same fig tree is withered away completely.

I also learned that a fig tree in the Old Testament was symbolic of the Nation of Israel (see Hosea 9.10, Jeremiah 8.13). The Israelites had a long history of turning from God and, after troubles arise, calling out to Him for deliverance.  I understand that story well because it mirrors my own faith walk more than I’d like to admit. Maybe that is the point. We are wired to look for the best for us. God calls us to put those desires to death. We miss His leading. The fig tree (nation of Israel) had turned from God again. They were missing Him. In fact, they opposed Him. They took the law that God had given Moses and they morphed it into something that they could control and use for their benefit. Like the fig tree in Bethany, the Israelites should have been producing the sweetest of fruit, but were not in fact producing any.

The meaning of this encounter with the fig tree is amplified by the next episode in the Holy Week account.  Jesus and the disciples go into Jerusalem. They enter the temple courts and Jesus literally turns things upside down.  This is a shocking episode because Jesus ministry was marked by forgiveness offered to sins of many “sinners” including adulterers and even hated tax collectors. The difference is that they were repentant. The merchants in the temple – the keepers of the law – were not. They were looking to take advantage of visitors and outsiders to line their own pockets. And with all the tourists in town, it would be a profitable time for them. They chose wealth over fruit and Jesus was calling them out for it.

Points to ponder

1 Being Fruitful

John 15 talks about what bears fruit and what does not. Jesus says that “any branch that does not bear fruit He cuts away” (vs 2). The way to bear fruit is to stay connected with God. He goes on to say that the way to show your connection to God is to love others (verse 17). Love serves, helps, sacrifices. It doesn’t judge or take advantage of others. How does God’s love mark our life? Does how we treat others show God-style love?

2 What is Different?

The church of today can also be guilty of missing Jesus. Do we put more attention to how things look then on meeting needs? Are we more interested in a polished presentation that will compare to other churches then we are about sharing the hope of Jesus to a hopeless world? Do we copy the Pharisees, condemning “sinners” while acting like we are not sinners ourselves?  Sometimes I wonder if our traditions and ideas have gone too far away from what God truly wants. Is He trying to get our attention and call us to change? Are we hearing Him?

3 Getting our Attention

Jesus left no doubt about his displeasure with how things were being done. He turned over the tables where people were selling sacrificial animals and drove out the money changers. He said “my house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers (Mark 11.17). The merchants were doing business as usual with their overpriced wares. Jesus arrived and showed that they were not honoring God with their actions. He grabbed their attention and called for changes. What would He do in our churches today? What tables would He knock over? What part of our church experience would He turn upside down?

As we consider these things, and the changes we feel compelled to make in our own lives and priorities, we know that our loving God went through the pain of Holy Week to offer forgiveness and call us to live for Him. So let’s ask God to make some changes in us.

God help us to read Your Word and learn to worship You in the manner You deserve. Forgive us for putting our desires first – our desire for recognition, importance, our desire to be the coolest church around, forgetting that we are all one church. Mark us instead by your love flowing through. Unite us in the mission You gave us – sharing the Gospel with a dying world and teaching them to follow You with all their heart.  Help our hearts to follow only You. Let our love for others and our service to You be evident so others see and praise You.(Matthew 5.16)


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