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Meditation on a fig tree

The production of leaves cannot hide a fatal lack of fruit

Issue: "Crossing the Rubiocon," Aug. 14, 2010

Jesus cursed a fig tree. This will already not go over big with the Earth Liberation Front. But worse, he cursed the fig tree though "it was not the season for figs" (Mark 11:13).

Don't worry. Help is on the way. We may yet save the Savior's reputation! Isn't it funny how we are constantly rescuing God from embarrassing discrepancies, as information comes to light aborting our chronic readiness to defect? Remember the time no one thought King Sargon existed, because the Bible was the only place that mentioned him (Isaiah 20:1)? Then archaeologists discovered his palace at Khorsabad, and now he's one of the best-known Assyrian kings. Apologies please?

Or the time they thought the mention of a tunnel built by Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:20) was poppycock? And now if you visit Jerusalem you can walk through all 1,749 feet of it, and admire the feat of the king who brought water from the hidden spring of Gihon outside the city to the pool of Siloam inside.

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Frankly, it is not much of a moral issue with me that Jesus cursed a tree, inasmuch as I have murdered many a tomato in my father's garden for selfish salad designs. I will not even go into the legions of peonies and lilacs that I have slaughtered. Nevertheless, it would trouble us if the Lord seemed to act like Caligula, sentencing to death any sentient, or non­sentient, creature that pricked his pique.

You realize, of course, those of you who want an ironclad case for Christ before you will believe, that if this particular biblical stumbling block of the fig tree is satisfactorily removed from your path, another dozen will sprout in its place. I, after I had dithered for two years about Christianity in spite of numerous proofs, was finally told by a man named John on Cape Cod that there is no end to this approach, and that I had better become a Christian straightaway and find out the truth of it from the inside.

But the fact of the matter, according to Church of Scotland minister W.M. Christie, is that in Israel the fig tree produces tiny edible proto-fruit in March before the real fig season arrives. These knobby forerunners, roughly the size of almonds, are probably what Jesus was looking for-unless you want to believe that a man who, unlike foxes and birds, "had no place to lay His head" except fig and olive groves, would not have known the ways of fig trees. I wouldn't necessarily expect that the Creator of the universe was encyclopedic about plants during His earthly disinvestiture-but neither would I expect Him to know less than your average peasant.

These early taqsh fruit are coincident with the leaves that Jesus saw, and are a harbinger of the juicy figs that come later. If leaves appear but no taqsh, it is a sign that there will be no figs.

Jesus had just taken an exploratory stroll through the temple in Jerusalem the day before (Mark 11:11). We are not told what He saw there-perhaps a few caged doves and bleating goats, perhaps a few locked and chained money boxes-but I suspect He was not pleased. Perhaps He picked up on the fact that the worship of God had become a decadent affair, a gilded formality-"nothing but leaves."

He would have wanted to teach His disciples what happens to a church like that: It gets cursed. There is no guesswork about it; the transfigured Lord says in Revelation 2:5 that He will come around and take back His lampstand unless the Church shapes up. That is, unless it gets back its first love.

Summer is here again, and I may go to the shore at some point. If it happens on a Sunday, I will look for a place to worship. When I walk in I will know pretty soon if the place is about fruit or is nothing but brick and mortar and programs and "leaves." And likewise, if you come to visit my church in Pennsylvania, and you don't feel joy and love there either, you have a perfect right to turn on your heels and get fed somewhere else. 

Email aseupeterson@wng.org

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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