9 March 2013

Matthew 21:18-22

"And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road" (v. 18)


As was noted on Sunday, this week's passages have been book-ended with accounts of fig trees. This great symbol of Israelite identity and security becomes the focus of another example of the kingdom of God - but this time with far less favourable consequences.

We meet a very human Jesus in this passage. He is hungry and angry. However, we are also then faced with the mysterious and divine Christ. At his words, the unproductive fig tree withers and dies, leading his disciples to question Jesus' authority (and their own), afresh. In these few verses we are faced with the very reality of who Jesus is - and his disciples witness this too. This is one of the very last things that Jesus does in Matthew's Gospel before his death and resurrection - and we are thus faced with a physical demonstration of humanity and divinity.

This seems rather harsh on the tree. After all, it is still spring and the fig tree should not have any fruit on it, other than an early yield of 'taksh' - premature male fruit which precede the arrival of the fully grown, sweeter, figs. Technically, the tree in question has not done anything wrong. It is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

However, as we also noted on Sunday, fig trees were a known metaphor for the Jewish people.

Jesus is a multisensory saviour, and uses all the communication tools available to him to demonstrate the reality of the kingdom of God. This account becomes a powerful judgement not only on an unsuspecting tree, but on Israel. The tree offers the vehicle by which Jesus is able to demonstrate their inability to respond to the kingdom in their midst.

Furthermore, Jesus is in some ways predicting his own death at the hands of the powerful, and the continuing declining influence of the Jewish nation.

A simple tree and a few angry words by Jesus - and yet to his disciples and followers, there is something far greater going on. The challenge remains for them, and for us, to be people who bear good fruit and who remain in God - come what may.

To Ponder

  • How does this passage make you feel?
  • When has God answered your prayers? Where has God been silent?
  • What would good fruit look like?
  • What do you think this is parable about?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling

Joanne Cox-Darling is a Methodist presbyter currently serving in the Wolverhampton Circuit, where most recently she participated in a harvest festival in a farmyard, surrounded by a 'small' dairy herd of nearly 200 cattle. Joanne is the chair of the Christian Enquiries Agency ( - described by the Archbishop of York as the "possibly the easiest form of evangelism you will ever do".