On Fig Trees

Something I didn’t include in my sermon for this last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.

Jesus tells his disciples a short parable, about discerning the signs of the seasons from the trees — knowing when the summer is coming when the trees put out new leaves. So, we should also know, from the signs of war and in the skies, and the very sea itself, we should understand the Kingdom of God is coming.

At the same time, Jesus specifically mentions the fig tree — a tree that bears fruit. “Look at the fig tree [συκη], and all the trees [δενδρον].”

Now, Luke lacks the story of Jesus cursing of the fig tree right after his triumphal entry in Jerusalem present in both Matthew (21:18–22) and Mark (11:12–14). (MORAL: God hates figs.) This is a story, I think, designed to show what is about to happen to Jerusalem. It will be judged, and become barren. It will no longer yield fruit, and we know what happens to such barren trees — they are cut down and cast into the fire. (Matt 7:15–20)

Luke, however, does have a fig tree story. Long before the triumphal entry, Jesus tells his disciples the following parable:

6 And he told this parable:“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? ’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:6–9 ESV)

There’s a whole host of meanings in this parable (patience and persistence, as well as hope, but also right judgment — some things cannot be saved), but I think the primary intention is to consider the coming fate of Jerusalem.

I think Jesus bids his disciples to consider the “fig tree” at the end Luke, despite not cursing the fig tree, very deliberately. Not only are we to consider the signs of the coming age just as we discern the seasons from nature around us. We are also to consider that some things have run their course. They bear no fruit, and thus they will be cut down and cast into the fire. Figs are not gathered from thornsbushes, and grapes are not cut off brambles. (Luke 6:44) The judgment of God is coming, and in the case of Israel, as the armies of Rome to destroy the city — take down the tree. Only those who discern the signs right are going to escape that judgment.

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