Mark 11:12-14 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 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. Then he said to the tree, “May no-one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Jesus’ parables were powerful teaching tools. Their ‘bite’ lay in the fact that they used ordinary, real-life circumstances to illustrate and apply penetrating spiritual truths. Most of them were simple word pictures, easily understood at a superficial level, but remaining a mystery to the spiritually blind (cf Mark 4:11-12 – “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”).
On this occasion the Lord acted out his parable. As he approached Jerusalem, and his death at the hands of Israel’s religious leaders, he needed to warn them as strongly and as clearly as possible that their nation was under God’s judgement for failing to fulfil God’s purposes for them as his chosen people. The cleansing of the Temple (15-19) and the ‘word’ parable about the wicked tenants (12:1-12) that followed would reinforce this ‘action’ parable. A lush green fig-tree that had the appearance of health while, at the same time, bearing no useful fruit served his purpose well. The fact that it wasn’t actually harvest time was irrelevant to the central point of the parable.
What Jesus wanted his disciples to see and understand is that, in any real-llfe situation, it is possible to give the outward appearance of being effective and successful while at the same time actually being quite the opposite. And this was exactly the situation the exponents of Judaism were in!
As Paul reminds his young ‘lieutenant’ (and us!) in 2 Timothy 4:2 – ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.’ The situation is far too urgent for excuses about ‘convenience’ or ‘appropriateness’. Are we fulfilling God’s purposes for us as opportunities arise in our day-to-day activities? It is easy for us to bask in large congregations and impressive programs that attract the admiration of the world around us, and yet not be providing life-changing, lasting spiritual food to a ‘fairy floss’ culture that is hungering for something that is solid and real and spiritually satisfying in a way that meets their deepest needs, needs that can only be met in Christ.
The urgency of the message of this powerful acted parable for us today is made clearer when we reflect on Jesus’ words in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
– Bruce Christian