29 May 2015
The fig tree made a statement. It said, “I’m not going to give any fruit; no firstfruits before the harvest, and no fruits at the main harvest.” And so, Jesus said, “Fine.” And the tree withered and died. It’s not hard to see the fig tree and its demise as a symbol of what would happen to the people of Israel. They chose, ultimately, not to follow God. Their lives made a statement. And to that Jesus said, “Fine.” And, as we know, they withered.
In his gospel account, St. Mark puts this episode of the barren fig tree right alongside a teaching about forgiveness. If we want to be forgiven by God, we have to forgive others first. God places that choice squarely in our lap. Just like that fig tree (the people of Israel), we have a choice: We can either bear the good fruit of forgiveness toward others, or we can choose not to forgive others. And God will simply respond to whatever choices we make.
That being said, our Lord knows that sometimes it’s hard to forgive others. Sometimes people hurt us very deeply. Friends can betray us and reject us. Maybe our mentors and leaders turn out to be anything but trustworthy and admirable. And Jesus knows very well what it’s like to be betrayed and rejected. He knows.
He also knows that each of us is a sinner; that sometimes forgiveness is hard for us. But the fruit he’s looking for in us isn’t necessarily a full-blown, ripe and ready harvest of figs; a harvest of fully mature forgiveness.
Instead, he’s looking for even the littlest beginnings of a blossom. Even the smallest fruit in our soul that says to him, “Lord, sometimes it’s hard to forgive, but I’m trying, I’m really trying” . . . even the smallest fruit of forgiveness is a sign that we’re following him. It’s a sign to him (and us) that we’re choosing to live by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
And part and parcel of the Holy Spirit is God’s own Spirit of forgiveness and mercy. If the Holy Spirit is moving us to bear the good fruit of forgiveness toward others, then we know that God’s forgiveness is already at work in us. But it’s our choice whether or not to forgive others in the first place.
However we choose to live, our lives make a statement, just like that fig tree. When Jesus sees us—not in the future, but even right here today—what does our life say to him? Do we have even the smallest fruits of forgiveness to show him, or are we just another barren fig tree?