In today’s reading (Mark 11) we find Jesus doing something very odd. It is the day after Jesus’ triumphal enter into Jerusalem. He has been exalted by the people as he made his way into the city. He has spent the night in the suburb of Bethany, and is now making his way back into Jerusalem. Jesus hears his stomach growling, sees a fig tree in leaf off in the distance, but once he arrives to pluck a fig, realizes that there are no figs present. So he curses the fig tree.
The day continues on with Jesus arriving at the temple, getting upset at the sights he sees he begins running people out and turning over tables. Jesus is not happy with what his temple has become and he is no longer going to stand for it. At the end of the day they returned back to their place of rest in Bethany.
The next morning Jesus and his disciples are making their way back to Jerusalem from the suburbs. While walking along the road Peter notices the tree that Jesus cursed the day before. He notices that it is withered to the roots and points this out to Jesus. Jesus then goes into a discussion about faith and having the proper amount of faith, but more importantly, the right type of faith.
To many this is a very strange story. If you read just about the fig tree without the incident of the temple cleansing you may miss the point of what Jesus is doing. This is one of those times it is very important to get the context. In fact the context goes back to the triumphal entry scene. Jesus is bringing in a new order of doing things. Something different is going to take place. No longer is it the outward sings that will save a person. No longer is it righteous living that brings you into the good graces of God (Disclaimer: this does not give a free pass to not live righteous lives). In this new order of things entering into the good graces of God will be because of the content of your heart, the faith you have in Christ.
The temple was supposed to be a place of worship to God. It was a physical place where God was said to reside. They have took the true heart and nature of it and turned it into some devious, something that it was never intended to be. So what does this have to do with the fig tree? Keep reading
Many people get upset with Christ because the Bible says it was not the season for figs, and here he is cursing it for not having fruit. We are given a context clue to why Jesus cursed it … the tree was in leaf, but there were no figs. You see, when the tree is in leaf there should be figs on it. Now that does not mean they are ripe and ready, but there is at least something edible. So, if the tree is in leaf, and there are no figs on it, that means there will be no figs that year. The tree was being deceptive … it screamed I have good fruit, but on closer examination, it had no fruit, not even bad fruit.
Jesus has come to separate and change the order. Jesus is concerned with what is on the inside. He is concerned with the content of the heart, not necessarily what the outside shows, just like the fig tree, and just like the temple.