Mark 11: 12-14
12The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13Seeing 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. 14Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
This passage has always bothered me. Why would Jesus curse a tree that didn’t give fruit when it wasn’t its season to do so? That seems so unreasonable. Does He expect me to give things to him that I’m not made to give? A troubling passage indeed.
This weekend I finally heard an explanation to this passage (which most choose to quickly skip over). Verse 13 holds a very small phrase that I didn’t pick up on; “in leaf”. Fig trees are only in leaf when they are bearing fruit. It had all of the outward signs of fruit, but when Jesus approached it, he discovered that it was a fraud. It wasn’t the season for figs and that means it wasn’t the season for leaves either. It’s no coincidence that the story of the withered fig tree book-ends Jesus clearing the temple. At the temple Jesus found people exactly like the fig tree; giving all appearance of fruit but actually fraudulent and corrupt.
It makes much more sense when compared to what Jesus said in Mark 7:6-7
6He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
” ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.