Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Trees Without Fruit

"The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again.' And his disciples heard him say it... In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!'" Mark 11:12-14 & 20-21
I think it's no accident that this mysterious passage about Jesus cursing the fig tree begins with hunger. It starts with the need of Jesus and the curse/ the end of the fig tree comes by way of its' failure to meet that need.

On his way to the Temple, to do something quite dramatic and foundational in itself, Jesus enacts a sort of living parable. In his hunger he comes to the fig tree which by all appearances offers the necessary response to his need. The tree, apparently not ready in season or out of season (2Timothy 4:2 ?), gives not what its' appearance offers. Even though it looks good on the outside, it is fruitless and inadequate. Jesus apparently has no patience for trees which don't give what they offer, which are inadequate to meet the need of the hungry. The tree without fruit, whether it be a world power/government, and economic system, a health care system, a political body, a church, a religion, or anything else, will whither at the very word of the only one who gives just what he offers and who offers the cure, the remedy for the need of the world. If it delivers anything less than God's salvation, we, the church, should not settle for it. And yet we do so often devote ourselves to lesser things. We entangle our hope in Christ and confuse it with hope in other things. We so often water the fig tree, perhaps we're the ones who plated it in the first place. Jesus says, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again... Don't bother devoting yourselves to things which must whither and die even if it looks like good... Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it and it will be rebuilt as my body and blood." Where the fig tree and the Temple system fail to save, built on the inadequacy of violence and repeated sacrifice, the body of Christ, the new temple, the tree and the bread of life, does not fail.

Far too often we devote our whole lives to systems which cannot last. We continue to give our hearts to trees without fruit, to temples, to churches, to "that's how we've always done it," and to systems which look good, boasting words like "freedom" and "liberty," but really don't deliver on their offers. We water these trees but eventually they've got to whither--they've got to die and be replaced by the true savior. Forsake all but Christ. Give the only allegiance you've got to the God of salvation. Don't settle for a fruitless tree.

"Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty'" (John 6:35).

2 comments:

Danny said...

Good stuff. I am still utterly confused as to why Jesus would expect to find figs on a fig out of season. It makes no sense from an agricultural standpoint to destroy this. I liked how you saw a parable within it. I tried my hand at writing a piece on it on my blog too.

WES ELLIS said...

I've thought a bit about the season thing... I think there's something going on here... the tree wasn't doing less than what's expected of it, but that's just it... it doesn't have the capacity to do the work that needs to be done (even at its best). The Temple doesn't have the capacity to do the work of salvation even though it may fulfill some role for a season. Only Jesus has that capacity.

Just some thoughts... I still don't really get it.