Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Fig Tree, Withered and Restored


On the following day, after they had left Bethany, he felt hungry, and, noticing in the distance a fig-tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. But when he came there he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. He said to the tree, 'May no one ever again eat fruit from you!' And his disciples were listening. Mark 11: 12-14
Early next morning, as they passed by, they saw that the fig-tree had withered from the roots up; and Peter, recalling what had happened, said to him, 'Rabbi, look, the fig-tree which you cursed has withered.' Jesus answered them, 'Have faith in God. I tell you this; if anyone says to this mountain, "Be lifted from your place and hurled into the sea", and has no inward doubts, but believes that what he says is happening, it will be done for him. I tell you, then, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you have a grievance against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you the wrongs you have done. Mark 11:20-25 

This is a photo of the Moreton Bay Fig Tree in Balboa Park, California. It is an apt image to convey the symbolic meaning of the fig-tree for first century Judaism: a sign of the end time when God's Kingdom-Rule will be finally realized. Indeed, like this fig-tree, God's Rule will be fully stretched and expanded.

Looking back even further, the fig-tree was thought to be the tree of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. And why not? When Adam and Eve were expelled from that Garden they made their first clothes by sewing fig leaves together (Genesis 3:7).

At the same time God told Adam and Eve: now you've spoiled everything and the very ground you walk on will only grow thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). But later the Prophet Isaiah tells us that God reversed that curse and made the land once again productive and lovely. 
"Cypress will grow instead of thorns, myrtle instead of nettles. And this will be fame for Yahweh, an eternal monument never to be effaced." Isaiah 55:13
There are indications that when Jesus "cursed" the fig tree he had this kind of reversal in mind. Most bible translations read that Jesus cursed the tree saying, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." But some translators say a better translation is, "May no one eat fruit from you again until the end of this age." The word until suggests the curse will be reversed. And if we are familiar with the mind of Jesus, we can see this reversal making sense.

Peter said to Jesus, "Master, the fig tree you cursed has withered." The response of Jesus is revealing, "Have faith in God," which might suggest the story isn't over, but there is more to come. Notice too the word withered reminds us of the Gospel account where Jesus healed the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). Same word. It is the very nature of Jesus to heal. So Jesus is telling Peter in effect: Have faith, believe that the fig-tree, like the sickly man, will be restored.  

And following the story line faithfully, we see Jesus tying the idea of restoration to forgiveness. Forgiving people is like this withered tree which will be restored. Indeed, a few verses later, Jesus refers to the fig-tree in all its spring glory. A Kingdom person is a forgiving person.
Learn a lesson from the fig-tree. When its tender shoots appear and are breaking inoto leaf, you know that summer is near. In the  same way, when you see all this phapppening, you may know that the end is near, at the very door. Mark 13:28 

6 comments:

  1. I don't like to think of Jesus punishing the tree because it didn't have fruit. It wasn't even the season for the figs, so why did he cause the tree to wither away?

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    1. I don't like that he punished the tree either. And you are correct; it wasn't even the season for figs. But we can't take out the Gospel bits we don't like - it's there and needs to be addressed. It is possible for the story to have a meaning to First Century Christians that is now lost to us 2000 plus years later. I'll put my faith in the restorative promise.

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  2. I do have faith in God's restorative nature. Isn't that what we all want for our children? I don't believe in the punishing God of the Old Testament. But we have to be open to being saved. A closes heart will remain withered.

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  3. A Jewish woman told me that in Christ, God has turned to face us squarely. As if in the Old Testament God looked at us from the side - but in Jesus, God now looks into our own eyes with eyes of his own. Gazing is the language of love.

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  4. I take from this that we sometimes feel downtrodden, cast out and cursed, even when we have done nothing that deserves punishment. That it takes faith and hared work to overcome it. With strong resolve and open hearts, we can be restored like the fig tree. Maybe a lesson about not giving up despite hardships that come to us unexpectedly.

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  5. It seems God expects a lot from us. Even though we want to say; "Where are You God." When we pray and their seems to be no answers. I guess its all about trust, humility and patience. I hope for that energy that He is so good at giving. I am energized by this thought of restoration. God can do this!

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