Jesus Curses A Fig Tree
Matthew 21.19-20 (New Revised Standard Version)
And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.
Sometimes it’s fun to imagine yourself with a superpower, like the ability to fly or control things with your mind! It’s a question that’s sometimes asked on Alpha courses and in youth groups – if you had a superpower, what would it be?
Today’s short reading sounds a lot like Jesus is inviting the disciples to realise their superpowers to cast even mountains into the sea. And in one sense that’s exactly what he’s doing, inviting the disciples to a remarkable life of living and being equipped with God’s power. But there’s more to this short passage than meets the eye.
When Jesus curses the fig tree and declares this almighty power over the disciples, he does so the morning after he has driven out bandits and brigands from the temple. Sometimes its translated as robbers or thieves, but these were not just people who were lining their own pockets through the sale of sacrificial animals for temple worship. These were people bent on ushering in the Kingdom of God by any means possible, using violence and force if necessary. It was corrupt and fundamentally opposed to the Kingdom Jesus was establishing. In tipping up the tables Jesus interrupted their system, ordained by God but warped by the corrupt desires of evil people. But Jesus doesn’t stop with the tables, the lame and blind – the excluded – come to him and he heals them there at the temple. He turns the temple upside down, tearing down an unjust and ungodly system.
So, when the next day Jesus encounters a fig tree just outside the city that was not bearing fruit, he passes judgement on it in the same way he did with the temple, so that it would never bear fruit again. He declares to the disciples in the sight and shadow of the temple mountain that by faith they could tear it down.
But it wasn’t just about tearing down, cursing and disrupting, it was also about establishing something new. In healing the blind and lame at the temple, in inviting the disciples to recognise the superpower of the Holy Spirit, Jesus introduces us to a just Kingdom that welcomes all.
So this is also an invitation to us today to consider ourselves as temples, as fig trees, as vessels of the Spirit and to ask whether or not we are bearing fruit, or whether there are ways we have been corrupted by our own desires?
The power of God is to move mountains by even the smallest mustard seed of faith. But it isn’t for our own desires or purposes, it’s for his purposes, his mission. God calls us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly and the power of God is to uproot even the most deeply established injustices in the world, to bring to freedom to the oppressed.
The challenge for us today is consider what systems God might be calling us to challenge and uproot. To examine ourselves and ask whether or not we are bearing fruit. And our prayer, is that in place of those things, God might establish his kingdom of justice and mercy, in us and in His Church.
(Church Wigan/Town Centre Hub)