Welcome to Monday of Holy Week. On this day, our Lord overturned the moneychangers’ tables and amazed the crowds. Perhaps his most problematic act, however, came at the beginning of the day.
Mark tells the story: “When they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And 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. And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it” (Mark 11:12–14).
Why would Jesus curse a fig tree for not bearing fruit when it was not the season for fruit? There is more to the story.
The fig harvest occurs from mid-August to mid-October. Then fig trees sprout buds that remain undeveloped during the winter. In March and April, these buds grow into small green knobs known in Hebrew as paggim. While not yet ripened into mature summer figs, they can be eaten. Leaf buds then sprout, usually in April.
Jesus saw a “fig tree in leaf” and assumed it would have paggim, but “he found nothing but leaves.” Mark’s explanation, “it was not the season for figs,” is better understood to explain that it was not yet time for the figs to mature. The tree should, however, have borne paggim that would be edible. But it did not.
The prophets often likened Israel to a fruitless fig tree (Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 29:17; Hosea 2:12; Joel 1:7; Micah 7:1). Jesus did the same (Luke 13:6–9). John the Baptist warned the people that “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
The lesson is simple: a fruit tree is evaluated by the degree to which it bears fruit.
When we moved in Midland, Texas, we inherited a peach tree planted by the previous owners. It provided shade for our boys to sit under and improved the overall appearance of the house. The fact that it produced peaches was ancillary to its purpose in our yard. But if we were peach farmers, the shade and appearance of the tree would be ancillary and its fruit would be its purpose.
God wants us to bear fruit. Our appearance and social status is ancillary to our purpose. The Master Gardener wants us to reproduce spiritually just as a tree reproduces botanically. And he wants us to exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit” in our daily lives (Galatians 5:22–23). Here’s the catch: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).
Are you leading people to Christ? Are you demonstrating the character of Jesus to the world? Actually, here’s the prior question: are you abiding in Christ? Is there unconfessed sin blocking your fruit-bearing? Or are you living in intimate communion with your Creator?
God measures our maturity by our fruit. Do you?