Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
This might seem like a strange incident for two of the gospel writers (Matthew and Mark) to include. What do we have here? A hungry Jesus, cursing the tree in anger because there are no figs? Well, no, not really. As usual, Jesus is teaching his disciples—and us—a lesson.
Normally at this time of year fig trees would not be bearing fruit (Mark 11:13), but because this tree was in leaf it should have had fruit on it as well. So Jesus curses it, making its fruitlessness permanent. The barren fig tree is a metaphor for fruitless Israel (see Isaiah 5, Luke 13:6-9). As God did through the prophet Isaiah, Jesus is denouncing the people of Israel who have the appearance of fruitfulness but who produce no fruits of repentance or faith. Because they do not produce fruit, he will turn away from them in judgment (Hosea 9:10-17). And the disciples are amazed.
What about us? Are we bearing fruit? “Trees bear leaves for themselves. Trees bear fruit for others” (Gerard Berghoef & Lester De Koster). Jesus said of the Father, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2). May the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) be ever more evident in our lives. May we joyfully praise, love, and serve the Savior who bought us by his precious blood, and may we faithfully love and serve others in his name. Let us ask him for grace to do that, remembering the words of Jesus to his disciples, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).
Lord, thou needest not, I know,
service such as I can bring;
yet I long to prove and show
full allegiance to my King.
Thou an honor art to me:
let me be a praise to thee. (Frances Ridley Havergal)