The Lesson of the Fig Tree
Welcome back, this week we’re going to look at one of the misunderstood miracles that Jesus performed and how the early church fathers saw this miracle, and what we can learn from it. I originally talked about the miracle of the fig tree in April of 2019 at St John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church in Jacksonville FL but I’ve had time to rethink it and expand on it a little.
I also want to say that most of my study on these verses come from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. (Affiliate Link) If you love the early church Fathers this is a great commentary to have.
The Parable of the Fig Tree
18 On his way back to the city early next morning, Jesus was hungry. 19 He saw a fig tree by the side of the road and went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. So he said to the tree, “You will never again bear fruit!” At once the fig tree dried up.
20 The disciples saw this and were astounded. “How did the fig tree dry up so quickly?” they asked.
St Augustine said, Isn’t there something absurd about Jesus literally cursing a tree for not bearing fruit out of season? Everything in Scripture is to be understood either in its literal sense, in its figurative sense, or in some combination of these.
St John Chrysostom said, When such things are done, whether to places, plants or animals, we do better not to be overly curious about the divine will. Do not inquire too far into whether it was just that the fig tree withered, or you will lose perspective. This sort of question is trifling.
So what Augustine says is this has to be understood in a way that makes sense and Chrysostom is saying the tree isn’t the point.
Today the Kids would call the fig tree a MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is a device or object that serves to trigger the plot, in this case, a discussion about faith and the word MacGuffin was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s a great word that you can impress your friends with the next time you go to the movies.
Don’t get caught up in what he does to the tree, get caught up in what Jesus says next.
21 Jesus answered, “I assure you that if you believe and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I have done to this fig tree. And not only this, but you will even be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea,’ and it will. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Jesus uses the fig tree to get the conversation started. The disciples ask how this is possible. And Jesus looks at them and tells them about faith. This isn’t the first time Jesus has said this to the disciples. He told them earlier and we can read it in Matthew 17:20 that is they have the faith the size of a mustard seed they can toss the hill into the ocean.
(Chrysostom) He repeated this Lesson to enable them to cleave to prayer and faith. For you shall not only do this, but you shall also remove mountains; and many more things you shall do, being confident in faith and prayer.
Jesus repeated this lesson because he wanted them and us to get it. He wanted them and wants us to understand that our faith is the key to everything, and through faith we produce fruit.
Our Greatest Example
Mary gives us our greatest example. One ordinary girl’s yes changed the course of human history. We don’t sing “Greater in honor than the cherubim and beyond compare and more glorious than the seraphim.” because she exhibited a little faith. As Fr. Stavros Akrotirianiakis says, in his book, The Road Back to Christ,
“Her “YES” was a yes to the greatest task ever given a human being—the respo...