What does a fig tree have to do with Covid-19? Holy Week, 2020
As I write, I am winging my way from Raleigh, North Carolina to San Diego by way of St. Louis, one of six passengers on the airplane. St. Louis Airport
Kinda funny because I think my plans were foiled. You see, I took the pains of carrying my Bible (rather than packing it in my suitcase) in hope someone would ask me about it. Alas, everyone is too far away to see or care! 'Must say that I am loving the juxtaposition of Easter, the very pinnacle of our Hope, with the mess in which we find ourselves worldwide. If ever we needed a Savior, it is now. Is it not?
Nonetheless, I had my Bible handy on the airplane to do some additional digging on a few Holy Week specifics. Like, of course we know Sunday was Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9.9 ... 'See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' Amazingly, Zechariah wrote this 500 years before Jesus rode down the Mt. of Olives.
And Thursday is when Jesus celebrates the Passover with the disciples in the Upper Room, (the day we look back and realize was his Last Supper), his prayer in the Garden, his arrest.
Friday is the day of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.
But what about . . . Monday?
As Jesus is walking from the town of Bethany where he slept on Sunday night, he does two significant things as he comes into Jerusalem, about a two-mile walk. Both things might seem out of character unless we step a little closer and examine his thinking.
From Matthew 21~ Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked.
21 Jesus replied,"Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt,not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
Jerusalem fig treeWhat in the world! What's up with the fig tree? Move in now . . . let's see if we can get into the mind of Christ on this Monday morning of Holy Week. Most fig trees do not have mature fruit at this time in spring, but this tree already has a full covering of leaves, indicating it should have early figs.
With that in mind, Jesus inspects the tree and finds no fruit. Huh, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin'.
So what do we know? First, the fig tree symbolized the nation of Israel1. Jesus' actions toward the fig tree that morning indicate his judgment of Israel's hard heartedness toward God, toward him and their spiritual barrenness. As the gospels record over and over, the religious leaders knew the right things to say and the right words or posture to parrot, but their hearts were far from God. Hmmm.
Here is the parallel to Covid-19:
Christians say they trust God, that they know that he is in control, and yet - so many of us are operating out of fear and anxiety. Here's the thing, when we are consumed by fear, our faith is no better than the fruitless fig tree. Uh oh. As a minister I love recently said, 'our fear is a revelation'.2
And then I find something particularly heartbreaking going on among Christians - passing judgment on others (seems to be especially prevalent among women for some reason). In the last two days, I have spoken with two women in healthcare-related jobs who have been criticized and even accused of being both socially and spiritually irresponsible. What?! The hater of our souls is having a field day with this behavior, Christian, as it is so hurtful.
So, moving further into Holy Week, I would challenge us to look at the fruit on our own fig trees. I mean, do you and I have fruit growing on our limbs - as we creatively serve those we can? And then let's confine our eyes to our own fig tree, whaddaya say?
Jesus' cursing of the fig tree, his turning over tables of money grabbers in the Temple, establishing the priority of prayer . . . pretty interesting actions since these were some of his last before he would be crucified. Hmmm, what do you make of these things? Fact is, I believe our Lord is calling us now, during this pandemic, to get serious about prayer, and to get real, to love well and to put our trust fully in him. O, how I love him!
1 - Micah 7.1; Jeremiah 8.13; Hosea 9.10-17
2 - Tim Dilena