Why did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. Matthew 21:18-22

JesuscursingfigtreeIf you are like me, you would expect the story to be that Jesus came upon a dead fig tree and restored it, made it whole again and it immediately sprouted fruit. Jesus cursing a fig tree is not what we expect, nor what we are used to hearing. (Jesus is so often not what we expect.) This action is so clearly a prophetic message. Our Lord Jesus has His eyes fixed on Jerusalem. His passion is coming but the time was not quite ripe. Many have wrestled with why the Lord Jesus would curse a fig tree for not having figs when it was not the season for figs. St. John Chrysostom even directs us to not bother trying to understand it, saying, “Just behold the miracle and admire and glorify the worker of it.” – The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 67.1

But Augustine says, “that by withering the fig tree Jesus is in effect saying to us, I have no delight in the withering away of this tree. By doing so I want to convey to you that I am not acting absurdly but for a lesson you may take more seriously. It is not on this literal tree that I have inflicted punishment. Rather, I have made you fear, whoever you are who considers this matter, that you should not fail Christ when He is hungry and that you might hope to be in the coming season of fruit than in the preparatory season of leaves.”

Daily Readings in the Orthodox Church Monday, August 10, 2009 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 and Matthew 21:18-22

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3 Comments

Filed under Orthodox Christianity, Sundays, Feast Days, Other Days

3 responses to “Why did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?

  1. Clay

    It’s interesting the extent to which the plant kingdom takes an active role in all of biblical history. The fig tree makes an early entrance in the apparel business with Adam and Eve.

    We commonly assume that the fig tree in this account has been cursed. What if it wasn’t in fact cursed? What if it’s more of a teleological thing (me use big words)?

    Jesus to tree: “Hi, tree. I’ve got a good use for you in this story I’m telling.”

    Tree to Jesus: “My Lord, use me as you will.” I mean, really, what better honor for a fig tree than to be of immediate use to the Lord?

    Maybe Jesus wasn’t irked at the tree, so to speak. Maybe instead of telling the Apostles that with enough faith they could all run around cursing trees and mountains, He really meant that they could somehow participate in the perfection of all things.

    Now about that poor herd of pigs…

  2. Clay

    Hey, I think it just occurred to me where I got my possibly eccentric take on the above:

    “Though He should slay me…”

  3. I understand the fig tree to be a type for Isreal. Our Lord was not frivolously angered at a fruitless tree, but a fruitless nation that He had “dunged” for 3 and 1/2 years and refused to bring forth any fruitfulness in repentance and faith. But thanks be to God that this fig tree is blossoming today…..

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