Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Curses and Trees

One of the odder events of Passion Week was the cursing of the fig tree (Matt 21:18-22). TL;DR: Jesus looked for figs on a fig tree and, finding none, cursed it, causing it to wither.

People have been speculating ever since as to why he did that, what it was supposed to teach us. Maybe it was supposed to show us how unexpected the judgment would come (because "it was not the season for figs" per Mk 11:13). Maybe it was supposed to show us the power of faith. Maybe it was supposed to show us how high God's standard is.

Opponents have used it as proof that Jesus was an imperfect human who got mad at a stupid tree.

I would like to propose another possible purpose — one that in no way takes away from any other, except maybe that last one. This story of the fig tree gives us different glimpse at the raw power available to Christ.

In the gospels we frequently see the Master heal with just a word. We even see him raise people from the dead with a word (eg, Mk 5:41-42, John 11:43-44). Now, in case anyone had any doubts, we see the Lord of the universe kill with a word.

This is important because in less than a week, we're going to see Jesus looking powerless and frail. We're going to see Jesus beaten and mocked. He's going to be flogged half to death. He's going to be marched outside of the city. Then he's going to be nailed to another tree. All around him people will be hurling insults at him — daring him to get down from the cross, asking him why he can't save himself.

Abuse upon abuse will be heaped upon him. A word. That's all it would take. One word. "Die!" Everyone within the sound of his voice (maybe just everyone) would drop dead. The Son of God has at his command more than twelve legions of angels, but he doesn't need them. He has all the power he needs. All he has to do is speak.

And finally, he opens his mouth.

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34).

What is Easter?
Silent Saturday

1 comment:

David Sommers said...

Hello Chris,

I really enjoy your blog. You are quite insightful and have many good comments and observations.

As for why the incident of the fig tree, it relates back to Jeremiah and the figs (see Jeremiah 8:13 along with Jeremiah 24:1-10). It was a type of remez or teaching by hint.

The rabbis used a technique that was later called remez. In their teaching, they would use part of a Scripture passage in a discussion, assuming that their audience's knowledge of the Bible would allow them to deduce for themselves the fuller meaning of the teaching. Jesus, who possessed a brilliant understanding of Scripture and strong teaching skills, used this method often.

For example, when the children shouted "Hosanna" to him in the temple and the chief priests and teachers of the law became indignant (Matt. 21:15), Jesus responded by quoting Psalm 8:2: "From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise." The religious leaders' anger at Jesus can be better understood when we realize that the next phrase in the Psalm reveals why children and infants offer praise, because the enemies of God would be silenced. The religious leaders realized that Jesus was implying that they were God's enemies.

As for the figs, Jesus was teaching that just like the punishment that Jeremiah foretold, Jerusalem would be destroyed because they were rejecting God (in the person of the Messiah and the Son of God no less) and hence not bearing fruit.

So it is not arbitrary or capricious but is a sign to teach the disciples and to warn the Jewish leadership of the consequences of rejecting God and His Messiah.