The Barren Fig Tree

12 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”

(Mark 11:12-14)

There’s nothing like being hungry, stopping at a place that’s supposed to supply food, only to find out there was none provided because you got there at the wrong time. Once we drove through Vermont at night and were starving. It was between 7:00pm and 7:30pm and every place we stopped at to eat was closed. We saw a sign that pointed to a diner, so we followed the road only to find that diner closed as well because we didn’t get there at the time it was opened. It was like everything closed up after 6:00pm, which we found odd, and had to end up settling for the dreaded gas station sandwich. Needless to say, we were disappointed and still hungry.

In the scripture above, Jesus and the disciples had come out of Bethany and He was hungry. From afar, He saw a fig tree out in the open which had leaves on it so it appeared to have fruit. The verse states “he went to see if perhaps He would find something on it” which implies He realized it wasn’t a sure thing that any figs would be on it because it was growing out of season. Upon closer inspection, Jesus found it had no figs on it, only leaves, and cursed it saying “let no one eat from you ever again“. The next day as they passed by the fig tree again, the disciples noticed it was withered and Peter pointed it out. Jesus informed them to have faith in God and to believe in what they pray for and it will happen just as it had with the fig tree. Yet when we look further at this withered fig tree, there is even more we can uncover.

Fig trees grow in different seasons and this one was growing out of season. It was also set apart from the other fig trees and looked to be in full bloom covered with leaves. As the fruit grows first on a fig tree and the leaves follow after, the sign of figs on a tree will be the leaves. Yet it is only upon closer inspection do we truly know if it has fruit or not, especially if it’s growing out of season or out of its due time. In this example, the cursing of the fig tree symbolizes God’s judgment on Israel for not bearing the fruit he wanted from the temple. It foreshadows the cleansing of the temple and the prophecy of its destruction in the next chapter. The Scribes, Pharisees, priests and elders of the people were adamant about following letter of the law.  They boasted about being worshipers of the one God, and strict observers of all his laws. Their constant cry was, “The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord” and “We have Abraham to our Father”. They were a good model of a fig tree with leaves as they had no fruit; for the people were neither holy, nor just, nor true, nor faithful towards God, nor loving to their neighbor. The Jewish church was a profession, not supported by spiritual life. Jesus had looked into the temple, and had found the house of prayer to be a den of thieves. He condemned the Jewish church to remain lifeless and fruitless; and so it was. Although the church remained opened, its teaching was dead. They were spiritual by appearance only but never produced any true spiritual fruit.

How can this apply to us? Sometimes a person who tries to grow and move quickly on their own can produce no fruit. When they want a job, a position, or anything bad enough, they may try to be exactly what others want them to be, playing the part on the outside while there is no growth on the inside. Like the barren fig tree, a person can appear to be one way from afar but only upon closer inspection (observing how they talk and act in their day to day lives or during difficult situations) is it seen that they are actually another way, bearing no fruit.

As a Christian, we are to be spiritually mature in our walk which means we are to apply the Word of God in our lives and grow from it, producing good fruit. What fruit must we produce? We can find the answer in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.

From afar one may look to be spiritually mature…they may seem joyful, loving, kind, patient, and appear to be doing great works for the Lord. They may seem to know the Bible well and appear to be doing what it says, but it’s upon closer inspection and how they are in times of distress, stressful situations and at home away from others where you can really see their fruit. This doesn’t mean a person won’t have a bad day. We all do, but there is a difference between having a bad day and having one every day. They may profess love thy neighbor, but do not help others as much. If they do, they do it begrudgingly. They may profess forgiveness but do not forgive much and stay mad at those who hurt them. They may profess peace and love yet argue with others. Sometimes it may appear that others seem to flourish and grow quickly while we seem to be be trudging along. Yet it is only under closer inspection it will be seen whether they are truly producing fruit or just appear to be. Even in recovery it may look as though someone is recovering quickly and moving at full speed, but it’s only under stress and difficult situations that it can properly be determined if they are truly recovering or are just good at playing the part. True growth which produces fruit can’t be determined by what we see on the surface. It takes closer inspection and how one lives their day to day lives that will show the truth. We must understand, however, that much stress in a person can produce fear, anger, insecurity, etc and much depends on the situation, but if after a certain amount of time there is no change, then there may be a problem.

How does God determine if we are growing in season properly or growing out of season and simply covered in fig leaves? By our fruit. He will squeeze us to determine what is really in our hearts. This means He will allow trials and problems to come into our lives and monitor our walk and growth. Sometimes we may be doing well but He may find there is still more junk in our hearts and will utilize a situation to squeeze it out of us. If we can acknowledge it, repent from it and be determined to get rid of it, then we will continue to grow. But if we are unable to even admit it, then our growth will be hindered.

What kind of fruit are you producing especially when you are squeezed under pressure. Are you calm and pray about things or do you become angry, worried and try to fix things yourself? Do you respond negatively to others harsh words or actions, or do you let it go, try to make peace and direct it to God? Do you always defend yourself or do you allow God to defend you? If someone needs your help, do you help them joyfully or do you make excuses or help them with an angry heart?

Take some time to examine your heart and your day to day life to determine what kind of fruit you are producing. Is it good fruit that you would like to nourish others with or bad fruit that could harm them? Make some time to get with God and ask Him to show you and to help you change so you do not become like the barren fig tree and wither away.