We are now entering the final part of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is now in Jerusalem and in the final days of his ministry.
Today we have the strange incident of the fig tree. Jesus was leaving Bethany for nearby Jerusalem and was hungry. He went up to a fig tree looking for fruit to eat even though it was not the time of year for figs. Jesus then cursed the tree: "Never again shall anyone eat of your fruit!" Why curse a tree for not having what it could not have at that time?
In the evening on their way back to Bethany, the disciples saw the fig tree that Jesus had cursed all withered.
This story is generally understood as a kind of parable. The fig tree without fruit represents those people among the Jews who rejected Jesus. When he came to them looking for faith in his message, he found nothing. In a sense, they had closed their minds and withered up.
This meaning is reinforced by another event which is sandwiched into the middle of the fig tree story. This is a common device used by Mark and it is called ‘inclusion’, when one passage is enclosed within another. (We remember the story of the woman with the haemorrhage which is included within the story of the raising of Jairus' daughter.)
After cursing the fig tree Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem and began driving out all those who were trading in the Temple court. He accused them of turning God's house of prayer into a market place. It was an example of people who had reduced their religious faith to mere commercialism. Religious ritual had been turned into an opportunity for making money. The meaning of the Temple as the symbol of God’s presence among his people was being lost. And there was also the failure to see the presence and power of God working through Jesus himself. The fig tree was adorned with beautiful leaves but there was no fruit.
And so at the end Jesus urges his disciples to develop real faith, a real trust and insight into God’s presence in their lives. To those with true faith, Jesus says, just anything is possible. It is an essential condition for prayer. And prayer must include a willingness to forgive and be reconciled with those who cause us difficulties so that we may find forgiveness and reconciliation from God for our own faults and failings in his service.
Let us pray today for that kind of faith. A faith that produces much fruit.