Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit.
This story is baffling, isn’t it? It seems that Jesus, who is known for showing love and compassion, gets upset and just destroys an innocent fig tree. And this happens just before Jesus turns over the tables of corrupt moneychangers in the temple. There must be a connection.
In the Old Testament, the imagery of people being able to sit in the shade of their own fig tree was a common symbol of peace (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10). Fruit-bearing fig trees were also a symbol of blessing for God’s people.
But when the people ignored God, the prophets compared them to fig trees that were not bearing good fruit. God’s people were supposed to be reaching out, caring for others, and helping with others’ needs, but instead they were being selfish, growing rich off the work of others, and taking advantage of systems that were intended to help others.
When a fig tree was in leaf, that usually meant it had fruit already. But Jesus found none. So he cursed it as a sign that God would also bring judgment on his corrupt people. The leaders of God’s people had let corruption creep in. They charged high exchange rates and outrageous prices for travelers and needy people who were at the temple to celebrate the Passover holiday.
Jesus was saying to the leaders, “You are only putting on a show. You are nothing but leaves, and you have no fruit!” He wanted the people to provide not only shady leaves but also the sweet, abundant fruit of compassion and justice.
Lord, call us to account when our lives don’t bear the fruit of your Spirit. Guide us to live in step with Jesus. Amen.