Matthew 21:18-22: Withering the Fig Tree
Friday August 12, 2016
This week we have looked at the many ways in which Jesus wants to heal us. We have seen him give sight to those who are blind, hearing to those who are deaf, and movement to those who are paralyzed. All he asks in return is that we use the gifts he freely gives us to bear fruit for the kingdom. Today we look at a Favorite adapted from a reflection written on October 26, 2009.
In today’s reading we come across a story that is troubling for some: the sudden way in which Jesus withers a fig tree that has not produced fruit. Here Jesus has just entered Jerusalem and has cleansed the temple of the money changers. In the next portion of this story we will see Jesus’ authority questioned and we will sit at the Master’s feet to listen to a series of parables. Footnotes tell us that we might see Jesus’ actions here as ill-tempered and arbitrary, but it is really a prophetic act portending the judgment that is to come upon Israel “that with all its apparent piety lacks the fruit of good deeds and will soon bear the punishment of its fruitlessness”. (Senior 45) Here too, besides this obvious portending of the future, Jesus affirms the amazing power of faith – that if we believe we too might cause trees to wither and mountains to be lifted up. What we read is a strange dichotomy that causes us to think . . . a tool which any good teacher will use: The placement of a puzzle before students so that they might be called to think outside of the normal typical story. What is Jesus doing when he withers the tree?
We might pose the theory that Jesus would win more converts if he had caused the tree to flourish; but then we miss the importance of our own free will. We, like the fig tree, have been planted in our particular place. We, like the fig tree, may have to exert ourselves to bear fruit. We, like the fig tree, will be held to an accounting of our stewardship of the gifts we have been given.
In one of our favorite stories, Queen Esther shrinks from the work she sees lying before her because she fears the loss of her own life and the lives of her fellow Jewish exiles. When she balks, her uncle Mordecai reminds her: Even if you now remain silent, relief and deliverance will some to the Jews from another source; but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows but it was for a time like this you obtained the royal dignity? (Esther 4:14) Who knows for which moment in time our gifts are meant? Who are we to parcel them out in a miserly fashion or to decide to keep these gifts safely tucked away for ourselves?
In Luke 12:48 at the close of the parable about the watchful servant, we hear Jesus remind us that much will be demanded of those who have been given much. We might think of this today as we move through our many small and big chores. What is it we have been given that we are asked to share? What can we do to be certain to produce fruit with the gifts we are given? And do we ourselves have the faith to wither trees and move mountains?
Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.45. Print.
For other views on this reading, click on the images above or visit: https://rgospel.com/2010/02/28/jesus-and-the-fig-tree/ and http://www.christianity.com/blogs/dr-ray-pritchard/how-did-the-fig-tree-wither-so-quickly.html
Tomorrow, a gentle mastery.