Matthew’s account of Jesus cursing the fig tree in Matthew 21:18-19 has long fascinated me. According to the commentaries I have read on this passage, figs would not have been in season in the spring of the year, which was the time when Jesus would have ridden into Jerusalem for the Passover. So, it is very odd that the fig tree described in these verses would have leaves as Matthew describes. For this reason, it attracts Jesus’ attention and he decides to see if the tree is bearing figs in a manner that would be consistent with the appearance of the tree. However, upon closer inspection, the tree is found to be fruitless. Jesus then curses the tree, declaring that it will never again bear fruit. What are we to take from this strange encounter between Jesus and a deceptively unfruitful fig tree?
It seems clear that Matthew is warning his reader against following the sinful example of the religious authorities of Jesus’ day. On the outside, they looked appeared to have a genuine concern for holiness and a zeal for religious observance. However, if one were to take a closer look at their lives, they would find their lives to be devoid of the grace, love, and mercy that should characterize the life of every sincere follower of God. Rather than bearing fruit for the kingdom of God, these religious authorities were merely keeping up the appearances of religion.
The truth of this passage should lead us to examine our own lives. Are we bearing spiritual fruit or merely going through the motions of religion so that others will think more highly of us than they ought? Take a close look at your life today. Ask God to show you whether you are engaging in the externals of religion while having a heart that is far from him. May you and I be disciples of Jesus Christ who bear spiritual fruit that is consistent with our outward appearance.
Matthew 21:1-22 (ESV):
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry.19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”