Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? A fig tree is just going about its rightful business in the off season – growing leaves, storing energy, nutrients and so on, preparing to have fruit – then suddenly, for not producing an impromptu miracle, it is the subject of no small curse from the Creator of the Universe. Yet the patience of God is staggering, his mercy incomparable. So where is the patience of the Son of God, his mercy towards this hapless tree? OK, so Jesus was angry. Perhaps we underestimate the weight of humanity he was wrestling with here as God incarnate? Especially then, perhaps only days out from the cross. Did he already carry the weight of our sins? Our anger? Did he already know the forsaking of his Father which befell that instant of Jesus’ life for our sakes? Still, Jesus himself did not sin. So whatever motivated this pronouncement of doom for the fig, it was not wrong. But something was wrong. The Creator shows up at a fig tree looking for fruit, hungry belly and pleading heart looking to his Father, he ought to find fruit. Any time, any season, it should be there for him. Something was wrong, Jesus knew it. Someone was to blame. ‘Your Father! He’s let you down. Oh yes, its alright for those sinners, he heals every disease under the sun for them when they so much as touch the hem of your garment, he lays on loaves and fishes for thousands! But when you, his own son, needs a feed on the hardest day, its too much.’ That was one possibility. There were not too many other suspects. Just the tree. Very well then, Jesus decided, the tree it is. Jesus understood that his anger had to go somewhere. That is why he said to his disciples, ‘If they will not receive you, nor hear your words, when you leave that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ Again, it does not sound too charitable. But that dust is bad stuff. Best not carry it around. Nonetheless a bad day for the tree! Its sap must have positively crystalized when Jesus spoke. By the next day it had withered away. Yet how else could it be? It would have been unthinkable for anyone else to get fruit from it in future. That is why Jesus said, ‘Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth forever’. To have fed Jesus would have been an ultimate good. To have failed to feed him was an epic event. But to then feed anyone else, having failed to feed God himself, would have been a disgrace. Yet all was not lost. Because for what is a fig tree born? Is it not to make known its Creator? To satisfy him, yes. But by what is he more satisfied, than that he should be revealed in that very tree? And so it was. To this day the tree, though withered away, ‘stands’ as a testimony and a teaching about God, and a commemoration of the temptations of Jesus. Indeed the fig tree was fulfilled. And so perhaps it will stand again, barren of fruit, full of beauty, beside a river of life, in the light of one Son of God, in a world to come.
Figs out of season – not really a big deal for the one who turned water into wine, who fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes – twice. And that’s only what we know about. Jesus even said to his disciples, what are you worried about food for? Don’t you remember the loaves and the fishes? (That’s my version – sorry its not word for word, it would pay to check the original.) But that morning on the way into Jerusalem Jesus was hungry. But then there’s more to figs out of season than just food. These are special figs – God figs. These are figs from the Father. That’s why Jesus was hungry, and that’s what he hungered for – a nod, a smile, a ‘keep going Son’ from on high. A message in figs – figs where there shouldn’t be figs, right where you need them. I’m not saying Jesus wasn’t physically hungry, I’m saying when we are emotionally drained we are looking for something to keep us going. And when Jesus saw that fig tree, a ray of hope flickered in him, and he knew, if Father was giving me breakfast, that’s where it would be. Food for body and soul, food for faith if you have a heart to know it, and no one had faith like Jesus, a heart like Jesus, who knew the mind of the Father, who saw Father’s hand at work everywhere. And in that fig tree, Jesus searched for that hand.
You see, it seems to me that as Jesus braced himself that day for the subtle, deadly, piercing inquisition of the pharisees, and the oceanic needs of the people, the seeds of what were to be some of his final words – Father, Father, why have you forsaken me? – had already been sown. He woke that morning feeling strangely alone, strangely empty, strangely abandoned. And in his heart he knew, ‘it has begun’. This is the end game. And its mine, and mine alone. And out of that realisation weakness flooded him, hunger arose, then anger – but that’s for another post. Before that came the fig tree, and a ray of hope – this is how it has always been, you and me Father, always your lifeline, the hand that no one sees, though I tell them, though I point to it, they stare blindly, but I see, I know, and I need your lifeline so much.
Not this time. As Jesus searched the branches, bleary-eyed, bewildered disciples watching, behind every leaf was only the cold realisation, it was not to be. A new feeling. A closed door. An empty stomach.
I’ve heard it said the future can be whatever you make it if you put in the effort. Try telling that to the blackbird couple that made this nest. (OK, they won’t understand, but anyway..) Unfortunately by the look of the last remaining chick just before the nest became empty, I doubt it flew out of there. But the nest is beautiful. How do they do that? A little unconventional perhaps, on the concrete outside the tearoom.. Maybe they had a bad experience with a tree? They put a lot of effort into those chicks too. Check the other post with poor mum in the pouring rain, babies warm and dry underneath. Anyhow, seems there won’t be fledglings this season. So much effort just to produce some feathery compost or a quick takeaway meal for a passing cat. But if its like that for a blackbird, how can we pretend that people are always the authors of their own misfortune? That we owe no one anything, they all had their chance? One morning it was cold and the last chick was there alone shivering, I thought, oh no, where’s mum? I can’t rescue the chick, can I? How long will it suffer if she’s gone? Should I even put it out of its misery? Why couldn’t it just disappear in the night? Then she came back and my conscience rested. When the chick finally did disappear it was much easier, I saw nothing, whatever nasty thing happened was hidden by the dark when I was nowhere around. Like some child in a slum on the other side of the world, or where shells explode and adults lie bleeding, children wait in vain for them to return. No one’s life is in their own hands alone. But we can make a difference.