In his gospel account of Jesus’ ministry, the disciple Mark recounts a story of Jesus and a fig tree. Jesus and his disciples were walking from a town named Bethany to nearby Jerusalem when they saw a fig tree in the distance. Mark records that Jesus was hungry, 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. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.” (Mark 11:13b-14).
The next morning Jesus and His disciples passed the same fig tree, and “the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!” (Mark 11:20b-21).
I have my own fig story, and while it’s not nearly as miraculous or interesting, it taught me something about myself. Something like three or four months ago the hubster and I were shopping at Costco when I spotted a giant bag of dried figs. I’d seen the figs before and always figured they were a good someday purchase. I don’t know what came over me that day, but I reasoned the right time had finally arrived. I snatched up the expensive bag of dried figs and plopped them into our cart.
The hubster seemed a little incredulous at first. “Why in the world are you buying those things?” he asked me. But like a good husband, he let me get away with my one extravagant purchase, and that was the end of that.
Here’s the part of this story where I confess to you that I had no idea what I was going to do with the dried figs. I’d seen numerous healthy recipes online that called for figs, and I knew I wanted to try one of them out. But I’d never actually made a single dish with figs in my life, and I should have considered that I’m not even all that good when it comes to baking new things.
And so the figs went into the cupboard and sat. And sat. And sat. Until one day – when we were getting ready for an all day adventure the hubster had planned – I called out, “pack me snacks!” from the bedroom. Later I opened my snack bag to find a slew of yummy things and a plastic sandwich baggy full of dried figs. They were the one snack that made it home completely untouched.
To this day, those figs sit in my fridge. You know, to “preserve them” until I finally find the time, energy, and wherewithal to enact my grand plans and bake up something delicious that the hubster and I have never tasted before.
And that’s the problem. Jesus didn’t curse the fig tree because it’d been a little too long since His last meal, and like my hubster and a few other loved ones He got grouchy when He was hungry. He cursed the fig tree, because it was pretending to be something it wasn’t. While it’s leaves suggested it was in full bloom, at root it was really just an unhealthy tree without any fruit. It wasn’t using the gifts it’d actually been given.
If I’m honest with myself, I can be the same way with the things that God has given me. Like the figs at the bottom of my fridge, I’m storing up the things He’s nudging me to do for someday. I’m hiding them away or just overlooking them until the “time is right” to really break them out.
Jesus called it hiding our light. (See Luke 11:33).
And his half-brother, James (the son of Mary and Joseph), said it this way:
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. – James 2:14-17
At the heart of these is one single message: our faith is meant to be used. It’s meant to fill us so full of the Holy Spirit that His light overflows to everyone around us through our good gifts and good deeds. If not, it might as well wither up and die like the cursed tree.
There will never be a time when our actions earn us special favor with God or make Him love us more. But our actions can be good indicators of how we’re really doing on the inside. If we’ve really tasted and seen that the Lord is good, then we won’t be able to hide it. It will come bursting out of us everywhere we go, and like a fig tree in full bloom we’ll bear good fruit so that others can taste and see, too.
Original photo of Fig on a Tree by Peter Griffin from publicdomainpictures.net. Adapted for this blog post by Stephanie Oh.