Jesus often used agricultural images to make a point. Several times he used a barren fig tree to teach a lesson. Figs were a common fruit in the time of Jesus, and a single tree could bear much fruit. For a fig tree not to bear fruit would be like McDonald’s running out of hamburgers. It just shouldn’t happen!
In one story Jesus was hungry as he was walking to Jerusalem and went over to a fig tree by the side of the road. The tree had no fruit, and Jesus cursed it, causing it to wither. The poet Denise Levertov gives us a unique view of this story through the eyes of the cursed fig tree in her poem, “What the fig tree said.”
I particularly like the line, “I was…a metaphor for their failure to bring forth what is within them (as figs were not within me).” The barren tree stands for our own failure to bring forth “human fruits” of compassion, our failure to connect with the person of Christ in his care for all humanity, our failure to accept the gift of fruitfulness that the Lord holds out to us.
In a world that is often motivated by the quest for power, wealth, and fame, we are reminded that, like the fig tree, as followers of Jesus we are called to be transformed into nourishment both for ourselves and for all God’s people.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit…It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43,45)