The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Mark 11:12-14 (NIV)
As a young follower of Jesus, I remember being taught that it was my responsibility to “win souls” for the Lord. Over the years, I was prescribed a handful of sure-fire methods by which to quickly share with people how they could “get saved.”
During this same early stretch of both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I was taught that it was also of primary importance to be “pure.” The formula of “purity” was basically abstinence from the major impurities: sex, drinking, drugs, smoking, listening to “worldly” music, and swearing.
Looking back, there is nothing wrong with either of these things in-and-of themselves. As a follower of Jesus, both being able to effectively share with someone “the reason for the hope that is in me” and being pure are things I am asked to do. Nevertheless, the further I’ve progressed in both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I’ve come to understand that they may very well be by-products of Love’s fruit, but they aren’t the fruit itself.
With today’s chapter, Mark’s biography of Jesus enters the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. Mark shares an obscure episode in which Jesus goes to a fig tree hoping to find a snack. Finding none, he curses the tree. The next day, they pass by the tree and find it withered.
I’ve always been intrigued and a little confused by this story. Jesus was always one for using living word pictures as teaching tools, and I have to believe that later that same week He would share with his followers: “I am the Vine and you are the branches. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut-off and used for compost.” Of course they have a mental picture in their heads of the withered fig tree.
In the quiet this morning, I took the teaching and the word picture one step further:
What was Jesus looking for when He approached the Fig tree?
Figs, quite obviously.
What is the Gardener looking for when He approaches the branches on the Vine?
The fruit of love which one knows by it’s identifying characteristics:
Now, sharing this love with others may lead to opportunities for telling someone how they can enter into a relationship with Jesus themselves. In the same way, any Grade A, organic fruit of Jesus’ love will be pure in all of its goodness and self-control.
Once again: These are by-products of the fruit, not the fruit itself, and it’s the fruit that produces the by-products never the other way around.
To riff on Paul’s treatise on Love:
If I memorize the Four Spiritual Laws and knock on every door in the neighborhood in an effort to win souls, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well be winning souls while losing my own.
If I live my life a tea-totaling eunuch disciplined in my vow of strict silence, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well look like the beautifully pure fruit but be void of flavor or any kind of nutritional value.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself continuing to meditate on the question I asked myself as I read the chapter:
If Jesus walks up to my life on this day of the journey like He walked up to that fig tree, what is it He wants to find on this branch?
The pure fruit of Love in all its fullness and goodness, or just a few of its ancillary by-products?
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.