The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
Lesson of the barren fig tree


Scripture: Matthew 21:18-22

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he was hungry. 19 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 fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" 21 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. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."

Meditation: Why did Jesus curse a fig tree? Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the Jews.  Bad figs or a decaying fig tree was linked with evil deeds and spiritual decay.  The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel's unresponsiveness to the word of God.  The prophets depicted the languishing fig tree as signifying the desolation and calamity of Israel due to her unfaithfulness to God (see Joel 1:7,12; Habakuk 3:17; and Jeremiah 8:13). The history of Israel is one long preparation for the coming of the Promised One.  But the promise is unfulfilled in those who reject Jesus through unbelief. (See also Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13:6-9).   Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree is a prophetic action against the faithlessness of those who rejected his message. For faith to be fruitful and productive, it must be nourished with the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16; Col. 3:16)and be rooted in love (Galatians 5:6).

After this incident Jesus exhorts his disciples to “have faith in God”.  They are to pray with expectant faith  no matter how difficult the situation may be. The phrase “to remove mountains” was a common Jewish expression for removing difficulties.  A wise teacher who could solve difficulties was called a “mountain remover”.  If we pray with faith God will give us the means to overcome difficulties and obstacles.  If we want God to hear our prayers we must forgive those who wrong us as God has forgiven us.  Do you pray with expectant faith?

"Lord increase my faith and make my fruitful and effective in serving you. Help me to forgive others just as you have been merciful towards me"


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 (c)  2002 Don Schwager