“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.13 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. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.” Mark 11:12-14
All 12 disciples witnessed Jesus cursing the fig tree with no fruit – and in fact, they found it dead from the root the next day. It was an amazing miracle with a powerful lesson. Jesus was saying that we, as His disciples should be bearing fruit in our lives…and we should apparently be bearing fruit out of season. I have always been troubled by that. When I have a busy season of ministry/work, I really need a little downtime. Didn’t God make a big deal about creating the Sabbath for man to rest?
I am no green thumb, and certainly don’t know anything about the life-cycle of a fig tree, so I decided to do a little research. I learned that in the spring, fig trees produce fruit before they produce leaves. Yet, even when the leaves appear (close to summer), there are generally some late fruit still on the tree. So, when Jesus observed the tree from a distance and saw it in leaf, He knew the primary fruit-bearing season had passed, but, there was still a reasonable expectation of finding a few figs. Zero figs were an indication of a big problem: either the tree produced NO fruit during the season, or the fruit was so bad that it immediately rotted and fell off.
In other teachings, Jesus addresses both situations. Luke 13:6-9 is the parable of the fig tree planted in a vineyard that produced no fruit for 3 years. The vineyard owner wanted to cut it down, but the gardener wanted to give the tree extra care and nourishment for one more season before giving up on it. While, Matthew 7:17-19 distinguishes between trees: “17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
In putting all this together, I discovered no respectable gardener will keep around a bad tree. By human standards, Jesus was absolutely correct to curse the fig tree with no fruit. I went awry in my interpretation with what the fruit represented. I assumed it had to do with our work, or productivity. But Jesus is looking for spiritual fruit from us that is produced by being in the vine – in Him – so that it is not our doing/effort, but His Spirit that is working through us. This fruit does not manifest in actions, but in the attitudes of the heart that prompt our actions: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23) Since I cannot work to produce this fruit, but must rely on remaining in Him to receive this working through me, then it is not about my need of, or the advisability of, downtime. I’m not the one expending the energy.
So, the huge lesson is, if I need downtime from producing fruit, it is human fruit through human effort = bad/faux fruit, or no fruit. Fortunately for me, the Gardener has not given up on me, and is willing to do the extra work so that the next season will be different. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8