—Mark 11:12–14 (NIV)
Matthew and Mark both record a strange and confusing event on the Tuesday before Jesus was crucified.
Walking the 2 miles or so from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus gets hungry. He probably hadn’t had breakfast and the last donut shop was half a mile back. But up ahead he sees a fig tree in full leaf and his stomach starts to rumbling as he anticipates biting into a nice, juicy fig.
At least that’s what you and I would think. But there’s something different going on here, and Mark gives us a clue: “it wasn’t the season for figs.”
But it’s what happens next that confuses us: Jesus curses the tree, and it withers. (Matthew tells us that right away; Mark holds us in suspense for a few verses!)
It kind of makes you think that Jesus must have just woken up on the wrong side of bed, or he was stressed and grumpy or something. I mean, why would Jesus be surprised that a fig tree doesn’t have any figs when it’s not even the right season for them?
Right after this, Jesus talks to his disciples about faith. “If you have faith,” he says, “you can tell this mountain to throw itself into the sea … and it will! You just have to believe in God, without doubting.”
WHAT? What does a fig-less fig tree have to do with faith?
Either right before the fig-tree episode (if you’re looking at Matthew 21) or right in the middle of it (in Mark 11), we read of Jesus angrily kicking out of the temple all those people who’ve turned it into a veritable flea market.
Here’s what I think is going on, and how the temple incident and the fig-tree episode are connected:
The temple is a place where faith is learned and begins to be lived out; but the money changers and the lamb-sellers have turned it into a business. While they may once have served a practical need for the truly faithful, it had devolved into mere show: the lambs being sold no longer represented sacrifice, but mere convenience.
And the fig tree? Well, on fig trees, normally the leaves and the fruit would appear at the same time. So the leaves were an indication of life…but on that tree, there was no life; it was just a show.
How often in our lives do we do things for show, when there’s really no life—no faith—behind the show? Maybe going to church is that for you. Or showing up for Bible study. Maybe it’s giving or serving … that flows not from a heart of gratitude and faith, but a sense of obligation.
This week … this “holy” week—and especially this most unusual of holy weeks … all maybe, this is God’s way of getting your attention, my attention, our attention; maybe he’s saying to us, “let’s quit the show. Let’s have real, powerful, believing, mountain-moving faith.”
Let’s sit with that today. What commerce does Jesus need to rid from your life? What false signs of “life”? Ask God to replace those with the gift of faith.