Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 3 2013 - Mark 11:1-25 – Nothing but leaves

In this morning's reading we come across the strange incident of Jesus' judgment on a fig tree. On his way into Jerusalem, Jesus is hungry and goes over to seek fruit from a fig tree which is in leaf. But not finding any fruit on it he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again" (Mark 11:14). The following morning, when they again pass the spot, the disciples notice that the tree has withered from the roots (11:20).

This seems to be a very strange incident, particularly as Mark tells us that it was not the season for figs. Why would Jesus pass such harsh judgment upon an unfortunate fig tree? It seems almost like a case of bad temper; it seems so out of character.

We should note the way that this incident is recorded in Mark. Between Jesus' words of judgment upon the fig tree and the disciples' discovery that it has withered we read of Jesus cleansing of the Temple. The two incidents are closely connected and we should interpret the one in terms of the other.

Jesus' actions in the temple are a fulfulment of  Malachi 3:1-2, "'Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,' says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?" Jesus is the Lord come to his Temple; the Lord come in judgment upon his people. His actions that day in the Temple anticipate a greater judgment to come when the Temple and Jerusalem will be destroyed.

Jesus' judgment upon the fig tree is a prophetic enactment; it is symbolic of the judgment which is shortly to fall on a fruitless people. It proclaims the same message as is taught in the parable of the wicked tenants (12:1-12). This incident is recorded that it might be a challenge and warning to us also. The hymn by Lucy Akerman, written in the middle of the nineteenth century expresses it quaintly:

Nothing but leaves? The Spirit grieves
O'er years of wasted life;
O'er sins indulged while conscience slept,
O'er vows and promises unkept,
And reap, from years of strife,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! No gathered sheaves
Of life's fair rip'ning grain:
We sow our seeds; lo! tares and weeds,
Words, idle words, for earnest deeds.
Then reap, with toil and pain,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! Sad mem'ry weaves
No veil to hide the past;
And as we trace our weary way,
And count each lost and misspent day,
We sadly find at last,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Ah, who shall thus the Master meet,
And bring but withered leaves?
Ah, who shall, at the Saviour's feet,
Before the awful judgment seat,
Lay down, for golden sheaves,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

What an indictment of our lives if, having professed to follow Jesus, nothing of his character, nothing of his beauty, nothing of his compassionate and loving devotion to the needs of others, can be discovered in our lives – nothing but fruitless show. Rather, let this be our prayer and continual passion:

Make my life a bright outshining
  Of thy life, that all may see
Thine own resurrection power
  Mightily put forth in me;
Ever let my heart become
  Yet more consciously thy home.

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Peter Misselbrook