OK, so I’m sitting in the lobby of the O’Hare Marriott Hotel in Chicago, reading my morning passage of Scripture:
In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs on it, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up.
People are often puzzled as to why Jesus would have cursed the tree just because there wasn’t any fruit on it. In an ordinary circumstance, that would be true. Mark’s Gospel even points out that it wasn’t even the season for figs. (Mark 11:12-14) But this isn’t an ordinary circumstance; it was a teaching moment with the disciples. In the context of this situation, the purpose of the tree was to bear fruit for him. Jesus cursed the tree because it wasn‘t producing the fruit he wanted.
The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”
Then Jesus told them, “I assure you, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and it will happen. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:18-22 NLT)
The disciples, as was often the case, were more focused on the demonstration of power than the implication and application of the moment. Hard to blame them. I would have been hard pressed to ponder the metaphor of the fig tree when it had just withered before my eyes.
But if you read further into the chapter, the point of Jesus miracle becomes more clear. Hard on the heels of cursing the fruitless fig tree, Matthew records Jesus telling two parables: one about two sons (v.28ff) and the other about some tenant farmers (v.33f). Both of those parables were focused on the issues of disobedience and failure to produce what the Lord expected.
Jesus drove home the point of parables with utter clarity: “ What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.” (v.43)
OK, so I’m meditating on this and thinking about the fig tree as a metaphor for the life of a Christian who has been commanded to make disciples and fails to do it. I remember the parable of the soils, which I read one morning last week. I’m thinking about how the only soil that passes the test is the one that bears much fruit. I’m wondering whether I even remotely resemble the soil that “produces a huge harvest — thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted” (Matthew 13:23) or whether maybe my day-to-day life is better described as “thorny ground” on which “the message is crowded out by the cares of this life and the lure of wealth, so no crop is produced.” (v.22)
All this time I’m vaguely aware of someone working around the edges of the lobby area where I’m seated. Now a Hispanic fellow walks over and kneels down on the floor just a couple of fee away. He squirts some Brasso on floor fixture and begins polishing it. I’m watching and he looks up, smiles pleasantly and greets me. I reply and watch him work for another moment or two, then go back to the passage. In a bit, he moves away to work on another brass fixture.
And it dawns on me.
Jesus’ disciples were so fixed on what he had done, that they missed what he was trying to teach them.
I was so focused on what he was trying to teach them that I may have missed what he was trying to do.
It really is all about bearing fruit. Jesus said the proof that we are his disciples will be that we produce a lot of fruit. (John 15:8) And bearing fruit means multiplying disciples. And multiplying disciples means engaging people, sharing the Gospel, developing relationships, showing them Christ, helping them become disciples who make disciples.
And anything short of obeying the Father’s command to work in the vineyard and produce fruit is disobedience. How do you think the father would have dealt with the son who refused to work in the vineyard if his refusal continued day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year?