Today’s gospel reading from the Daily Office (Mark 11:12-25) tells the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the day after Palm Sunday. On his way into the city, he sees a fig tree on which he hopes to find some fruit; but when it turns out to be barren, he curses the tree and says, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (v. 14).While in the city, he sees that the keepers of God’s Temple have allowed greed to obstruct worship; so he drives out the money-changers and declares: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (v. 17). Later that day, as Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jerusalem, they see that the cursed fig tree has withered from the roots.
Most of the commentaries that I’ve read on this passage suggest that Mark presents the fig tree as an “enacted parable” of God’s people. For example, L. Williamson (Mark, Interpretation Commentary) says: “The fig tree is a symbol for Israel, embodied in the Temple and its leaders. Each appears to be thriving; neither is bearing the desired fruit; both are condemned by Jesus” (p. 206). By extension, God’s people in every age are invited to consider: Are we bearing the fruit that our Lord has a right to expect?
I’m constantly challenged by that question (especially on a day like today, when I happen to be under the weather and will probably be very ‘unfruitful,’ indeed). I’ve got a wonderful life and I have the privilege of serving an incredible church. But there is a driven, “Type-A” personality within me that’s constantly asking: Am I (and are we) doing enough? Are we leading others to experience the love of Christ? Are we truly making disciples? Is God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done a little bit more in our community as a result of our presence?
Naturally, I think that these are important questions to ask. Heaven forbid that we would receive blessing from God and then would fail to be a blessing to others. But the danger, of course, is that we can become so preoccupied by our fears about “being fruitful enough” that we neglect the connection to the vine on which our fruitfulness is based. And so – even though it’s a bit of an oversimplification – I try to approach the matter like this.
Trees bear fruit not because they struggle and strain to do so – but because that’s what trees do. I doubt you’ll ever pass by an orchard and see all the trees bent over, scrunching their branches together and screaming, “Come on, fruit…GROW!” Instead, fruit comes naturally because it is in the nature of trees to produce it.
In the same way, our fruitfulness is not dependent upon our frantic efforts to be more productive. Instead, we bear fruit when we allow Jesus to transform our nature so that “being fruitful” is just something we do. As Jesus says in another gospel: “If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).
May we all have a “fruitful” day today. And may we learn to judge our fruitfulness – not exclusively by how much we produce – but also by how yielded we are to the One who makes us the kind of people through whom His kingdom grows.