In Matthew 21 we read about Jesus wanting some fruit from a fig tree. The Bible reports that Jesus is hungry, and in reaction to the tree not having ripe fruit, Jesus curses the tree which causes it to wither and die. The disciples take notice of the withered tree. They ask Jesus how the tree died so quickly, and in response to their question, Jesus provides a lesson about faith:
21 “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. 22 You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”
This a great teaching about faith, but it is not a teaching without context. Matthew has repeatedly talked about “fruit” as a metaphor for what a person produces in their life. We know the proverbial statement that it is "by their fruit you will know them." And while this can be true of individuals, it can also be true of institutions and communities. Jesus is returning from Jerusalem when he gets angry at the tree, and Jesus will return to Jerusalem shortly to cleanse the Temple.
His message about faith is that real and authentic faith will triumph over the old ways of religion. The fig tree represents a Jewish leadership and system that does not bear fruit that is sweet to Jesus’ taste—therefore it must wither and go away. The “mountain” that is to be moved could be the Temple mound itself and everything that it has become—not what God wanted it to be, but an obstacle that stands in the way of persons coming to know the Lord.
The tree and the mountain are symbols of a lack or trust in God, a glorification of self and system, and a perversion within the purity of relationship with God. Jesus asks his disciples to pray for anything, and with faith it will be received. Given the context, maybe we should pray for the end of fruitless religion even in Christian circles, and the revitalization of faith that seeks the impossible because we are connected to the God who accomplishes the impossible.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.