Thank you Ruth F!
In this week’s post on the cleansing of the temple, I wanted to talk about Jesus’ withering of the fig tree because I think it is closely connected to the story of the cleansing. Also, some people point to Jesus’ ‘petty’ act against the fig tree as another example of his violent nature, and I wanted to talk about that.
However, I did not have space to include the story of the fig tree within the word limit of the post. So I decided that if someone mentioned the fig tree I would write an addendum to it; and reader Ruth F. brought it up in a comment:
“But, but . . . What he did to that fig tree.”
The Withering of the Fig Tree Bookends the Cleansing of the Temple—For a Reason
Going back to Mark’s story of the cleansing we see that, after his triumphant arrival into Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus went to the temple and looked around.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
We talked about this in the previous post. But I skipped part of what happened the next day as he was returning to the temple.
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit.
When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Mark says nothing further about this as Jesus continues toward his dramatic and symbolic confrontation at the temple. But after the temple incident, Mark says:
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
How the Cleansing of the Temple and the Withering of the Fig Tree Tell the same Story
I think the incidents of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple are related. Often people point to Jesus’ withering of the fig tree as a petulant and violent act against an innocent tree that reveals a dark side to Jesus’ character. Some people WANT Jesus to have a dark side—perhaps because of their own resistance to his persistent teaching and example on loving others.
First of all, it was only a tree. Now I don’t think it is good to needlessly destroy a tree, but it was only one fig tree among many in the area. But more important is that Jesus’ action was not one of momentary irritation; he did this for a purpose.
Jesus went to the fig tree looking for fruit when figs were not even in season; he did not expect to find fruit there. He then went to the temple looking good fruit—respect for the temple as a place of prayer for people of all nations. He didn’t expect to find this fruit either, and in fact he did not find it. This is when he demonstrated against disrespect for the purpose of the temple.
When walking by the fig tree the next day, the disciples noticed that it was withered; it would never produce fruit again. Rather than being an impetuous act, I believe this is another symbolic demonstration about the temple. Just as the fig tree never again produced figs, neither did the temple ever again produce fruit. The fig tree withered—destroyed—and would no longer serve its purpose. And the temple was soon destroyed by the Romans and would no longer serve its purpose.
I think the fig tree is an important part of the story of the cleansing of the temple, which is why Mark placed the events of the cleansing within the two parts of the story of the fig tree.
Articles in this series: Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence?
Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence?
Does the Cleansing of the Temple Show Jesus’ Violence? – I Don’t Think So
Addendum to the Cleansing of the Temple—What about the Fig Tree?
What Does it Mean that Jesus Brings, not Peace, but a Sword?
3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords
Isn’t it Violence for Jesus to Tell Us to Cut off our Hands to Avoid Punishment?
Jesus’ Final Act of Anti-Violence—Crucifixion
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