The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree, he went to see if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found only leaves. Then he said, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." The next day, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots." - Mark 11:12-14, 20
You read that right. Jesus cursed a fruitless fig. And it died.
But wait, didn't he tell the gardener to tend it, then come back to see how it's doing in a year?
No, that's a different fig tree from a parable about how patient God is. Here, apparently, Jesus isn't.
What's going on?
Well, some people say it means Jesus will damn us too, if we don't bear fruit. Or, horribly, that the cursed tree represents Jews who rejected Jesus. Or that it's about faith. If you had it, you could move mountains. Or kill a tree.
Are you liking those interpretations? I'm not.
No way around it: Jesus woke up ravenous, looked for figs, didn't get any, got mad, and blasted away. No good news in that. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to think about.
People need food. They do shocking things on empty stomachs. It's hard to be rational when something so basic is arbitrarily denied. It's rage-inducing.
Sometimes rage fuels the good. But sometimes it just rages, withering everything in sight. Yes, it'd be better if disappointment and frustration found more constructive channels. There's no excuse for violence. You can't defend what Jesus did.
But dammit, fig trees are supposed to give figs.
But dammit, hungry people are supposed to eat.
This story is confounding, O God. But so is human hunger, unaccountably unmet. Have mercy on us.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.