Holy Monday: Why Did Jesus Really Curse The Fig Tree?

by M. Joshua

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The first thing Jesus does after Palm Sunday where he rode into Jerusalem, cleaned-out the temple, and healed the sick?

He flip-outs on a fig tree:

“May you never bear fruit again!” He shouts. Then it withers and dies.

It seems like he was just hungry and got pissed-off that he couldn’t have a snack. Or that he just wanted to show his disciples that if you have enough faith, you can boss nature around. But it’s important to note that whenever a Bible story starts, you’ve got to read it until the story ends or that day ends in particular. Or you might miss the point of the story.

When the disciples were done swooning over Jesus like starstruck fanboys, he explained that if have enough faith and don’t doubt, you can “say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”

So why did Jesus really curse this fig tree?

Where does this story end?

It starts in Matthew 21:18 with them going into Jerusalem. And then the day ends in Matthew 26:5, where the religious leaders scheme to abduct Jesus in private. That’s five chapters of activity in one day. It’s a pretty busy day. But what’s interesting is what Jesus says to his disciples around the time that he’s passing the dead fig tree on the way out of the city. The disciples are all marveling over how rad the temple is. And Jesus says “not one stone will be left on top of another.” And they’re all confused by all of this.

Ever notice how Jerusalem is on a mountain? And what did Jesus say about prayer and mountains? And where was the temple exactly? Wasn’t it like at the top of the town? Might Jesus have actually been cursing the corrupted temple and the system of it’s screwed-up leaders?

I think all of that is a solid maybe.

What I do know is that just after Jesus cursed the fig tree, we get to see some of the best verbal Kung-fu recorded in the bible.

Check this Jesus fight out:

Jesus shows up in the Temple and schools the religious leaders and then they’re like, “By what authority are you doing these things?” And he’s like ““I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” Of course, they can’t validate John or they look like fools. So he’s got them trapped. They don’t answer his question, so he doesn’t answer theirs.

Then Jesus tells this parable about two sons who appear disobedient before their father. One son says he’ll obey and doesn’t. The other son says he won’t obey and then does. Then Jesus explains the parable by saying that whores and traitors are closer to God than the religious leaders.

This doesn’t exactly earn any points for Jesus among his enemies. He spends the next two chapters turning their own words on them and making them look as guilty as a middle-aged man walking out of a porn shop.

And if that’s not harsh enough, he starts yelling at them:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

And then:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

And in case, that wasn’t clear enough:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

(At this point in the story, it may become clear why these leaders didn’t like him.)

Pause.

So where are you at in this story? Cheering-on Jesus for calling-out the religious buttholes? Watching it all in disbelief, not knowing how to take it all in? Or are you questioning where you have hypocrisy in your own life? Carefully making sure you don’t end up like the pharisees?

Play.

After all of this goes down, you can feel the heat coming off of Jesus with how angry he is. He leaves the temple with his disciples and they’re super shocked when he tells them the temple is gonna be destroyed. So they ask the obvious questions of where, when, and how. They’re trying to make it fit with their view of the end times (which says a lot of other things have to happen in the temple before it can be destroyed). So Jesus tells them a pretty scary sounding story of deceptions, rumors of wars, faux-messiahs, and a time when “there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.”

This is a really weird bedtime story.

Then after Jesus seems to have screened the most depressing version of a Left Behind film trailer, he says this:

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

So I’d love to do a fancy pastor/teacher thing and wrap this all up super nice and clean. But instead, I’m gonna leave you with this:

A Holy Monday question:

What does Jesus want us to do with all of this cursing/faith/criticism/apocolyptic stuff? How do you think it’s meant to affect your faith?