Most of the interpretations I have seen on this passage attribute this to a lesson Christ was teaching regarding the nation of Israel, or the religious leaders of that day. While they may look healthy and vibrant-it's just a show, there's no fruit to the gospel they professed.
But I have to admit my own ponderings on this passage, on what trees out there should be bearing fruit and are not. Should we apply the passage to those who are young in their faith-or those who are lukewarm in their faith-we may have a lot of withered Christians out there. Maybe we already do.
I think I like the parable about the master and the fig tree better. In this parable Christ tells of a master who looks upon a fig tree and realizes that it is not bearing fruit and instructs the gardener to remove it. The gardener steps in and says, wait, let me fertilize it and give it another chance lord. I mean, who wouldn't want a second chance to produce fruit when the other option is the burn pile?
There are those who we have hoped would one day "bear fruit" and it just never seems to come. Whether its our kids or friends-the last thing we want to do is give up on them. But how long do we wait? I wonder if there isn't an untold story in the stand-off between Christ and the fig tree. Do you suppose he passed that way year after year, maybe over his lifetime, and never saw any fruit on the tree and this time he wanted to get a point across to the disciples?
I don't believe it is our place to judge when it is time to give up on someone.
About 17 years ago I did some landscaping at my folks' home. I built an arbor with a porch swing and planted a number of different shrubs and vines. But the one that was to be the show-stopper was a small start of a wisteria vine I bought at Country Gardens south of South Bend. The fellow I bought it from said that he had nurtured a handful of starts from his mother's vine that was at that time over 100 years old. I paid $20 for a 4" twig with a few leaves and planted it near one post that had an attached trellis.
And then we waited. And it grew and in a few years it began to grow like crazy. Soon the vine had covered the entire arbor-over 100 square feet of vine shaded the ground and swing beneath the arbor. Year after year went by and we kept anxiously waiting for the blooms to appear but they never did. The main trunk of the vine got thicker and twisted around itself and ultimately snapped the trellis it was growing up. Finally, tired of the ever increasing height and cover, last fall my dad went ballistic on the vine and gave it a severe pruning.
Two weekends ago we were at my folks and as I was grilling brats I looked over at the vine and at first thought that it had leafed out and the fragile leaves took a beating by the frost and had withered. But upon closer inspection, I realized that the vine, for the first time in its life, was covered with strands of buds. And it was loaded! So, this weekend we were there again and I snapped this picture of the wisteria finally blooming after 17 years.
Which got me thinking about this fig tree thing. Glad I didn't curse the thing in those 17 years and throw it on the burn pile. There are a few parallels here, but in order to acknowledge my own shortcomings I'll make it personal. There have been some times in my life, maybe even right now, when I feel like I've gotten pruned within an inch of my life and I wonder what for. There have been plenty of times in my life, too, when I went unpruned and, consequently, produced nothing. I'm glad the gardener has asked the master to give me a second chance. Can't say that I like the idea of being covered in fertilizer, but I trust He knows what He's doing.