April 6, 2009

The Holy Week: A Fruitless Tree

Jesus and his disciples walked along the dirt path that led from Bethany towards the temple mount in Jerusalem. As they walked they approached a large beautiful fig tree. They each were hungry, as they had not eaten much during that morning, as Jesus had wanted to arrive at the city as early as possible to be able to preach to the people in the city. Thus, as they neared the tree they had hoped that they would find a few figs that could provide them with some food. After all, the leaves had begun to come forth, meaning that the tree should have fruit. As they came to the tree Jesus reached forth his hand and combed through the branches, only to find leaves. With a glimmer in his eye Jesus said: “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever!” The disciples looked on in disbelief by his words. Why would he curse the tree for such a simple thing? What was the meaning of such an act? (see Matthew 21:17-19)

The cursing of the fig tree took place most likely on Monday, the second day of Jesus’ Holy Week. The incident is often misunderstood or questioned, yet with the proper understanding of the context of the incident one can find beautiful meaning and depth. Directly following this account in Matthew, the Lord tells His disciples that they too can perform miraculous things as He had just done. “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:21-22).

Immediately following this promised blessing to His disciples, Jesus is found in a confrontation with the chief priests as to His authority. As Jesus most likely sat under the large portico that surrounded the temple He asked them by what authority John the Baptist performed his work. They in turn could not reply, for by accepting John they would condemn their own authority (as they were supposed priests like unto John). By rejecting John they felt that they might offend those who listened, for most considered John to be a prophet. With this interchange, Jesus gave several parables that paralleled the lives of these chief priests.

The first parable tells of a man who had two sons and asked both to go do a work. The first said he would not but later did, while the second said he would and did not. Jesus then asked who was faithful to the father. Of course, these chief priests had been asked to do a work by the Eternal Father, even that of accepting and proclaiming the holy name of Jesus Christ. After all, this is what John did, and he was a priest like these men. However, they had said they would do his work, but then went and not only never fulfilled their word, but would soon go about to kill the very Son of God. (see Matthew 21:28-32)

The second parable that Jesus taught showed this exact sentiment. The parable teaches of a man who had a vineyard and had husbandman who were to care for it while he was away. When the time came to harvest, these men who were caring for the vineyard decided that they could profit from the earnings of the harvest by taking these profits unto themselves. When the master sent messengers to ask for a reporting, they stoned them, cast them out and rejected them. The master then thought that perhaps by sending his own son they would respond and give a reporting of their actions. However, these men seized the son and killed him that they might not have to deal with the master. Again, we can see a direct correlation to the fact that these chief priests had been entrusted with the temple and had been asked to keep it sacred and holy. However, they had not only polluted it, but they had used it as a means to earn profit by charging exorbitant fees for those who wished to exchange money and to buy animals for sacrifice. It was not that they were not permitted to do this, for it was highly difficult for a traveler to bring money that could be used in Jerusalem when each city had its own currency, and likewise hard to bring an animal that could be used for sacrifice on their long journey. However, it was the fact that they desired to make a profit on this that caused their condemnation. To further condemn them, within only a few short days these same men would seek the life of the Son, even the Son of the Eternal Father. (see Matthew 21:33-46)

The third parable Christ gives is in regards to a father who is to provide a marriage ceremony to his son. He in turn invites all of the people, and in particular the leaders of the community. However, when the men hear of the wedding, they turn down the invitation and say they have other tasks to complete. These men had been invited to partake of perhaps the most joyous and greatest event to ever take place upon the earth. Many have longed to live during the time of the Savior, to hear His words and to accept His light. Yet, we have not been blessed to live during His day, but these supposed “men of God” did live during His day. They were being asked to partake in the most glorious event of all eternity. However, they turned away the very man who would exalt and bless their lives forever more (see Matthew 22:1-14). According to Matthew, these men were very aware that Jesus was speaking of them, as they desired all the more to take away His life so that He would cease to threaten their power (see Matthew 21:45-46).

Thus, with this context we can understand that Jesus while cursing the fig tree spoke of these same men who should have born much fruit. They had been given great blessings and had thus been required to provide fruit to nourish and support the world with life eternal. These priests instead of providing life and vitality, they provided death and apostasy.

However, this is not where the parable ends, for each of us has been called to perform a work. We have been asked by the Master to follow Him. We have been asked to become like Him and to help others do likewise. How do we respond to this invitation? Do we say we will and then do not? Or do we say we will not and do?

We have each also been entrusted with a sacred temple of God, even our bodies. How do we use our bodies? Do we use them to earn money or to obtain wealth and prestige? Or do we use these same bodies to lift those in need and strengthen those whose knees quake? Do we use our voice to proclaim the word of God like unto John the Baptist? Do we use our hands to create works of art that will praise and proclaim the truth? Do we use our ears to listen to those in want? Do we use our feet to walk in His ways? Do we use our eyes to look for those whose heads hang low?

We likewise have been asked to participate in a glorious event, even that of the preparation of the Second Coming of the Lord and Savior. How will we respond to this invitation? Will we turn and find other compromises that may take our time away from the Lord? Do we spend hours watching television or wasting our time on the internet, or do we spend this same time in proclaiming and preparing the way for the Lord’s return? When the Lord returns will we be found ready and prepared to enter into His glory and rest? Will we wait with anxious anticipation for the time of His return? Will we glory in the time of His triumphal reentry into the world?

In short, when the Lord comes to us, will we be able to provide fruit that is precious beyond all else, or will we be like unto this barren fig tree that when given the opportunity to serve was found without? If we are found laden with fruit we will be able to perform all things as the Lord promised His disciples. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive!” (see Matthew 21:22). That we might be found worthy at that future day, laden with fruit and heavy with good works that glorify the Father and the Son is my prayer.

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