DEVOTION. Jesus’ lesson of the fig tree may be better understood as a figure of speech that teaches us something rather than give an ordinary description of life.
The straight gospel reading of the “Parable”, as it may be called – a figure of speech seems a better explanation as it teaches a lesson rather than tell a story as parables do – in Matthew chapter 21:18-22 – is without a direct explanation to the season which would give more understanding. Smith’s Bible Dictionary and the New International Bible commentary by Bruce offers some background, though.
The fig tree under Jesus’ gaze had plenty of leaves on it, the gospel reading says. When people read this at the time, they should have understood what this meant. For us, we consult dictionaries and commentaries.
Smith’s Bible dictionary says that Jesus had a right to expect fruit even though it was ‘out of season’ for gathering fruit and the fruit comes before the showering of leaves. The fruit could have ripened early in the “sunny ravines”. (Page 192-93). However, the New International Bible commentary by Bruce has a different explanation, but I prefer Smith’s.
Jesus would have known the seasons and what to expect, but Jesus is speaking in figures in speech, in any case. The New International Bible commentary by Bruce says the passage is parabolic. Here are my thoughts on its meaning. First, the passage:
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
What seems impossible can become possible, and if not change, the flicker of life turns on in prayer and what seemed hard is lessened in magnitude in spirit.
Things can happen in prayer when we pray to the Lord, if not our will, but keep on praying and receive God’s answer, not necessarily ours – as God sees to move, not us.
Jesus was hungry and saw a tree that was lifeless, but a hungry man needs food. Jesus turns hunger into a metaphor for spiritual hunger as if a hungry man spiritually speaking needs more than food, but his soul can be filled with spirit, in praying to the Lord.
The lesson may simply be about having faith rather than unbelief.