Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fig Tree

Just over five years ago, when my wife and I retired to where we now live, we did what many people do when moving. We took cuttings from some of our plants. One such cutting was of a fig tree, which was already flourishing in a pot.

It was duly planted, and nurtured and is now about nine or ten feet high.

A couple of months ago we were on the back patio enjoying a cup of coffee, and observing the back garden. Looking at the fig tree, I said to my wife,”If that tree doesn't bear fruit this season I will chop it down!”

Two weeks ago, we were repeating our mid-morning ritual with a cup of coffee. What do you think we saw? Figs!

Hidden amongst the lush green leaves were some beautiful, fat figs.

I suppose I could be excused for being reminded me of the occasion of Jesus cursing the fig tree:

“Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, 'No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you'. And at once the fig tree withered”.

As we talked about it, we remembered the context in which this event happened. Jesus had entered the city to much excitement from the population. It seems from the record that, having traversed through the excited populace, His first stop was at the temple, the use of which reminds me of the edifices which are usually called “churches” today.

Here Jesus found some very religious people who regarded themselves as the spiritual leaders, even the elite, of the day. They were using this building, which was supposed to be for the worship of God, for all kinds of purposes. It had become a place for satisfying greed, for the selling of goods and livestock, and, there is no doubt that the religious leaders were doing well.

Jesus was rightfully indignant regarding the charade confronting Him. He literally created havoc as He disrupted the cosy arrangements between the businessmen and the religious leaders. Can you imagine the scene as He tipped their precious money-changing tables over, the contents spilling on the floor to get trodden into the animal manure? The indignant religious leaders were seeing their cut of the profits disappearing, and, to make matters worse, their leadership and authority were being brought into question. Their prestige, high standing, and importance, were shown to be like the stinking mess on the floor.

They were all show, and no genuine fruit!

The religious leaders were great salesmen, but what they were selling was mainly self oriented, to be well regarded, housed well, financially comfortable, well dressed and well fed. Just as importantly they worked hard at convincing the religious adherents that they were extremely important as a means by which God communicated with them.

These fellows made themselves publicly prominent. Can you imagine what they would have done with today's media. Although; we probably don't have to imagine. Do we? It does seem rather familiar! I wonder why?

It was after this that Jesus observed the fig tree. Beautifully resplendent with leaves. What a glorious site!

But, wait! There is something about this fig tree of the eating kind. Fig trees really do put on a great show of beautiful leaves, but on a healthy, productive fig tree we will find, almost hidden amongst the leaves, the fruit. Some actually begin to show fruit even before the leaves appear.

The variety we have in our back yard is the former.

Jesus wanted His followers to realise that religious behaviour, religious show, attendance at religious meetings, even praying and reading the Scriptures does not ensure that a person is pleasing to Him.

This tree was a great example: It looked so lush and beautiful dressed in it's God given finery. It made a great display. It said,”Look at me!” But it wasn't saying, “Look at the fruit I'm bearing because of what the Grower has given me”. This tree was saying, “Look at ME! Aren't I glorious in all my finery! I've put so much effort into looking good.”

In Jesus' day, a traveller was legally able to pick the fruit of any tree growing by the road. The fruitless fig tree was representative of everything the religion of the temple and the Pharisees displayed to the world; an exercise in futile self interest; a disgusting display of meaningless, fruitless religion, which denied all that the prophets had foretold, and scorned the Messiah.

Is your purpose in life to display your religious finery and to practice meaningless rote rituals of attendance at meetings, clearing your conscience by partaking in the Lord's Snack, listening to sermon after sermon, attending Bible Studies?

It sure looks good!

But, with all our religious activity and busy-ness, are we, being built up as a part, “of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Surely three or four years of being discipled, nurtured and taught, ought to be sufficient to bring us to a level of maturity which will enable individual Christians, as a part of the Body of Christ, and as individual parts working properly, to be used to cause the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love.

The fig tree wasn't cursed because it had no fruit, it was cursed because of its hypocrisy. It acted a part. It pretended to be what it wasn't. It was all show and no substance.

How many hungry "travellers" have had to go on their way hungry because we are like that fig tree?

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