Focal Passage: Mark 11:12-25
Jesus’ cursing of the barren fig-tree serves as a solemn warning to and powerful metaphor for the radical demand for fruit-bearing of God’s people. Underlying this extreme action is a challenge to established religion’s obsession with social/economic success and its perpetual survival. Thus the cursing and subsequent withering of the fig-tree serve as a type of prelude/postlude to the cleansing of the temple.
The focus of the religious leaders was the smooth operation of the Jerusalem temple as the city’s largest economic institution. According to biblical scholars “the daily operation of the cult was a matter of employment for curtain makers, barbers, incense manufacturers, goldsmiths, trench diggers, and countless others” (Ched Myers).
The true problem for Jesus was not employment, but those barriers erected which prevented the pilgrim access to worship and devotion.
For example, foreign worshipers could not bring into the temple their Roman or Greek money; it had to be changed into Jewish or Tyrian coinage. Furthermore, the animals brought by the poor were not acceptable and had to be exchanged and purchased for a higher price.
Jesus responded to the unfair situation by driving out the buyers and sellers, overturning the moneychangers’ tables and the seats of the dove sellers, and preventing anyone from carrying any vessel into the temple-shutting down the temple’s operations altogether!
In Isaiah 56:3ff, the Lord promises the foreigner and socially marginalized that His house of prayer on His holy mountain would be a place of joy and community, accessible to the “outsider.” The Jewish leadership had turned this holy, inclusive place of joy and promise into a barren den of thieves and robbers (see also Malachi 3:5, 8, 10).
A fig-tree and the Temple. In the Jewish mind there was a connection between the fruitfulness of the trees and the maintenance of the temple services. Fig-trees as an essential part of everyday life, was the principal first-fruit brought into the temple and symbolized the godly and righteous man.
According to W. Telford, the fig-tree was also “an emblem of peace, security, and prosperity … prominent when descriptions of the Golden Ages of Israel’s history, past, present and future, are given.” He further writes, “The blossoming of the fig tree and its giving of its fruit is a descriptive element (of) Yahweh’s visiting his people with blessing, while the withering of the fig-tree, the destruction or withholding of its fruit, … (describes) Yahweh’s judgment upon his people …”
Thus, Jesus’ actions becomes a living announcement that the old, barren order of robbing God has ended and the rich reality of faithful living has arrived- the world can be remade (11:23-24).