PASSAGE: "In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again!' And the 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 never 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 cast into the sea,' it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer you will receive, if you have faith" (Matthew 21:18-22 RSV).
RESPONSE: What I love about this particular story (which is also found at Mark: 11) is the glimpse it gives us of a very human Jesus, knowing he has only a few days left of his earthly ministry (this is the final week of his life) and anxious to complete his work and leave his disciples with as much strength and awareness as possible. His treatment of the fig tree seems impatient and unfair—and it is. Jesus had achieved a full expression of the Christ—the divine nature that is his true identity, and ours as well. And he was also fully human, susceptible to irritation and impatience when he encountered impediments to his extremely important spiritual work—whether the impediments came from judgmental Pharisees, from dense disciples or from an uncooperative fig tree.
The important lesson lies in what he did with the situation. He turned it into a positive—into a powerful and pointed lesson to his disciples—and, by extension, to us as well. We have to realize, as we follow Jesus' path, that we are dealing with very strong energies indeed. Used for good—to create the kingdom—they will express infinite love and empowerment. But the creative power of the Word is no less strong if we tie it to negative impulses and rash judgments. “This stuff really works,” he's saying in essence. “So be careful how you use it!”
When we allow Jesus to be less than perfect—and no less clear and powerful a teacher because of it—then we also give ourselves permission to imperfectly express the spiritual power that is our true identity—and to learn and grow in the process.