Holy Week Day 1 – On the Way
Mark 11:12-14 (ESV)
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
This account happens after the triumphal entry when Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the acclaim and the praises of the crowd. The night before this Jesus goes and sees what is happening in the temple and goes home.
Mark writes that the following day Jesus makes his way to the temple and on his way comes across a fig tree that has left on it and when Jesus nears it looking for some fruit, he curses it even though it wasn’t fig season.
This seems rather harsh from Jesus, but Middle Eastern Fig Trees bare two kinds of fruit. The first is the traditional figs that only appear in fig season but the second is something that Jesus was expecting to find. When these fig trees were starting to come to life and bare leaves the branches were also full of nodules that were great for eating and travellers would often go and eat these nodules.
A fig tree with leaves and no nodules was a picture of an unhealthy tree. It was perhaps diseased or even worse dying on the inside. Time Keller says it like this, “Growth without fruit was a sign of decay.” The tree Jesus saw up close looked good from a distance but when Jesus saw it up close revealed an internal decay.
Remember that Jesus is between two visits to the temple here. He had been there the night before and saw what the temple had become and they were on their way back there again and in between their two visits Jesus takes this moment with a fruitless tree to remind the disciples that it doesn’t matter how grand something is on the outside, what matters is what is happening on the inside and the fruit that it produces.
This was the perfect metaphor for what religion had become in Israel and what religion always becomes in the hands of men and women. Religion always becomes an outwardly grand-looking thing but the ultimately fruitless thing.