Matthew 21:18-22 ESV
In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Humility in Cursing of the Fig Tree
Jesus told a parable concerning a fig tree that didn’t yield fruit in Luke 13:6-9. Seeing the fruitless fig tree, the man who planted it told the vinedresser to cut it down because it was worthless. The parable ends with the vinedresser’s request that the tree, having just been fertilized, be given one more year.
This is the story of Israel’s relationship to God and their covenant purpose of making Him known in all the earth. They were given every provision and every reason to trust God, but time and again they were unfaithful and sought their own sources of power, wealth, and prosperity. After Jesus cleansed the temple, it was clear that things hadn’t changed. The temple was busy, but the worship there was fruitless; it didn’t make God known to others. So, when Jesus cursed the fig tree He was undoubtedly making a statement about the continued unfruitfulness and coming judgment of the temple.
Jesus was hungry and wanted something to eat, but the fig tree yielded no fruit. We can assume that Jesus could have easily made the tree bear fruit to satisfy His hunger, but instead Jesus cursed the tree and taught His disciples about a faith that can move mountains. Through His actions Jesus not only made a statement about Jerusalem and the temple, He pointed to the better fruit of a humble faith in God.
It occurs to me that we are more often found quickly thanking God for our “daily bread” (Matt. 6:11) than praying that He provides it. Is that because we’re proud and would rather leave the providing to ourselves? In a crisis, are you quick to yank the reins of your life from the hands of God in an effort to make things manageable again? In those moments when we are quick to skip the prayers, get out our planners, make a list, and start checking some boxes, the reality of where our faith lies is often revealed.
The humility of Jesus demonstrates a better faith that relies fully on God and seeks His glory above all else, in every circumstance. Paul says in Philippians 2:6 that Jesus, “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ESV). This is the humble faith that led Jesus to endure the cross in submission to the will of the Father. The good news is that because of the humble faithfulness of Jesus, instead of us bearing the curse of the fig we’ve been granted full access to call on the God who moves mountains and conquers death.
Prayerfully consider these few questions:
- Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 21:22, “whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” How does that challenge you?
- In a time of crisis, what is revealed about where you place your faith? In what ways do you trust yourself over trusting God?
- What is the better fruit that is yielded by humbly trusting in Jesus over yourself? How can you remember that for daily living?