Friday, January 9, 2015

Not the Season for Figs

It’s not uncommon to read a part of the Gospel that has been read many times before and see something entirely new. Such is the case with the cursing of the fig tree as described in a book called To Know Christ Jesus, by lay apologist Frank Sheed

“When he was going back to the city in the morning, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And immediately the fig tree withered.” (Mt 21:18-20)
This appears to be a time when we have a “not so nice” Jesus demonstrating an irrational display of power; almost a kind of tantrum triggered by the Lord’s hunger and him not finding the fruit he wanted. The Gospel of Mark adds a detail that makes this incident even stranger. “It was not the season for figs.” (Mark 11:13) It was not as though this fig tree lacked some perfection it ought to have, meaning it should have had fruit. It was not the season for figs, so it would have been, in fact, unreasonable to expect to find any. But the Lord cursed the tree anyway.
Showy leaves with no fruit
Sheed suggests that Jesus was once again teaching his disciples by way of parable, but this time by acting it out instead of telling it. He was teaching, not about fig trees, but about us. It was a warning in “fig tree language” about what would happen to us with only an outward showing of religion (a bunch of large pretty leaves) with no real religion (good fruit). As far as the season for fruit, there is no off-season for mankind as there is for fig trees. We can and should be always about the business of loving God and neighbor.

The Twelve were amazed, but when they called attention to the withered tree, Jesus only answered how they would do greater and more astonishing things, provided that their faith does not waver. One is reminded of the same kind of promise made to the Twelve during the last supper discourse (John 14:12).

What kind of “things” could the apostles do that are greater than some things Jesus did? The specifics are not listed, but I should think the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist might be two of those things being foreshadowed. Raising the dead spiritually from sin is a greater fruit than raising the dead physically. Feeding the multitudes with the body & blood of Christ is far more impressive fruit than feeding the multitudes with ordinary bread. Either of these is much more remarkable than making a fig tree wither.

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