A vignette from the gospel of Matthew.
The tree wasn’t dead.
For some reason it was more alive than it should have been. So early in the season, no one would have expected a fig tree to be in leaf. But it was. Chock-full of veiny, hand-shape foliage. So much that a rabbi traveling by foot with a few of his friends noticed it from a great distance away. Granted, the morning was fleeting and he had yet to eat breakfast. He was hungry. So his companions found it a less-than-curious sight when he made a b-line to the foot of that fig tree and began to search for fruit.
Surely, with so much good looking leafage, the tree would be covered in the syrupy sweet produce it’s known for. But it wasn’t. Not a single piece of fruit on what appeared to be a flourishing fig tree.
Feeling bamboozled, the rabbi spoke to the tree through his stomach pangs. “May fruit never come from you again,” he exclaimed. The tree heard him, too, because it withered to the ground that instant. A twelve-feet- (maybe twenty feet) -tall tree, shriveled down into a pile of shrubbery at the sound of one man’s voice.
The friends looked around at each other. Then back at their rabbi. Stunned. Confused. Embarrassed. Afraid. The awkwardness hung in the air until they interrupted it with a poignant question.
“How did the fig tree wither at once,” they asked.
Keep in mind, these men had been traveling with their teacher for three years, witnessing him perform copious miracles along the way. He walked on water. He multiplied food. He healed the blind, the lame, the mute.
By even a fool’s estimation, they had asked the wrong question. They knew how it had happened. What they should have asked is why.
Why did the fig tree wither at once? It seemed a cruel and unusual punishment for the poor, defenseless thing.
Was the rabbi unaware that the fruit was not in season? Was he flexing his power simply because he could? Was he hangry? All reasonable possibilities.
No matter, here they stood with a pile of
withered leaves and twisted branches at their feet. Wondering how it happened when they should have been asking why.
The tree was dead. But for what reason?
Don’t just look fruitful, be fruitful.
Jesus noticed the fig tree because its leaves looked healthy and full. The tree didn’t look dead, but it may as well have been. It was all leaves, no fruit. Have you ever been there? I have.
All smiles, no joy. All talk, no faith. All calm, no peace. All intellect, no influence.
Jesus said that “no good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit” (Luke 6:43). Even when a tree looks good, it’s really the fruit that matters.
What are you producing? What is coming forth from you for the nourishment of others?
Appearances are a sham, and Jesus knows it. He is not interested in our pretty leaves, he wants to know what’s happening on the inside. Is our root system mature enough to reach down deep and find the water we need to be fruitful?
We may be fooling the people around us, and on some days we may even fool ourselves. But we can never fool God. He comes in close to inspect our lives, sifting through the leaves and looking for the fruit.
What will he find?
Fruitlessness will destroy you.
Jesus has called us to bear “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). We were formed for fruitfulness, and the wages of a fruitless life is to shrivel up and die like an unwatered house plant. (Or, like a barren fig tree on the side of the road leading to Jerusalem.)
When Jesus found the fig tree bare, imagine his disdain. A fig tree with no figs? This is what you were made for. You had one job.
Jesus wasn’t interested in excuses. He saw what appeared to be a flourishing fig tree, but when he got close enough to really see, it turned out to be a dud. What was it good for?
Though it may be easier to just pretty-up our leaves and never do the hard work required to be a fruit-bearing tree—the consequences are dire and never worth the temporary comforts.
The fig tree withered away faster than anyone thought possible, and our fate will be the same if our lives don’t produce lasting fruit for God.
Your fruit is always in season.
When a fruit is in season it’s at its peak flavor, readiness, and availability. It tastes better, it’s mature enough to be harvested, and it’s grown close enough to home to stay fresh. Every fruit has its season.
But Jesus isn’t satisfied with seasonal fruit. That won’t yield the kind of harvest he wants to produce through you. No matter what kind of season you’re in, It is never a bad time to be fruitful.
Whatever God is cultivating in your life is always ripe to nourish the people around you. All your leaves don’t need to be perfect for you to bear good fruit.