Summary: This is one of those stories that we often skip over, but it's there for a reason, hopefully, this message sheds some light on that.
To be completely honest, if I was writing the New Testament this is one story I probably would have skipped. And if you were completely honest you have probably been uncomfortable reading it.
It just doesn't fit with our view of Jesus. We can understand when he goes ballistic and clears the temple courts of the vendors and money changers. That happened later in this chapter. But those people were taking advantage of the crowds of people who had come to worship at the temple during the Passover celebrations and in Jesus words they had turned the temple into a "Den of thieves." That's den with one "N".
But this story seems so . . . so self-serving and out of sync with Jesus' character.
This happens in the days leading up to Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. It was on the Monday following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, on what we refer to as Palm Sunday.
Sunday evening, we are told that he had left Jerusalem and went back to the village of Bethany, where he spent the night, presumably with the Apostles. We don't know where they stayed but we do know that Jesus' friend Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha lived in Bethany.
On Monday morning, Jesus and the apostles are making their way back to Jerusalem, which was just a couple of miles away.
As they are walking along we read that Jesus was hungry, which is a reminder of his humanity, and he notices a fig tree on the side of the road. This was probably a wild tree and the figs would be available to anyone who wanted to pick them. So Jesus saunters over to the tree, which is full of leaves and discovers that there are no figs on the tree.
And this is where it gets weird. We pick up the story in Matthew 21:19 and he (Jesus) noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" And immediately the fig tree withered up.
Now I can be a little snarly in the morning before breakfast and my first coffee, so I can almost understand the sentiment here. But Jesus is supposed to be above that.
To make this difficult story even more difficult Mark adds an additional twist in his account:
Mark 11:13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit.
It wasn't even fig season, it would be like expecting to pick apples in May in the valley.
I don't know much about figs or fig trees but I do like fig newton cookies.
The weird things you remember when you are writing a sermon.
Does anyone here remember the TV show from the late 60's called the Ghost and Mrs. Muir? It was only on for a couple of seasons.
The premise was that a young widow played by Hope Lang along with her two children, their housekeeper and their dog rent a home in Schooner Bay Maine. They soon discover that the house is haunted by the ghost of 19th century Sea Captain Daniel Gregg.
A one point Mrs. Muir tells her son, Jonathon, that the Captain isn't real he's just a figment of their imagination. Well, the next time the Captain appears Jonathon puffs himself up and says, "You're not real, you're just a fig newton of my imagination." The technical term for that was a rabbit trail and it has nothing at all to do with the message.