Tracing Jesus’ footsteps during this week before the cross is a meaningful exercise. We know the significance of last things. We tend to remember last things with nostalgia and a sense of importance. We try to mark the end of things with memorable events- whether it’s the last day we spend in the house where we grew up, or the final moments of a loved one’s life.
That’s what makes Holy Week an important observance, and the lessons that Jesus left with us are a pretty big deal.
On Monday we remember that Jesus went into the Temple and upset the buyers, sellers, and moneychangers who were there conducting transactions. Many people were in Jerusalem for Passover and needed to purchase animals for sacrifice, or pay their required offerings. But the Temple was not the place to conduct such business, especially since a lot of the business people were swindlers. But, this is one of those Scripture accounts that we tend to remember because it makes a lot of sense to us. It fits the passion, the feel, of Holy Week.
But before that incident is another lesson that I find to be really powerful. It happened when Jesus cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit.
No fruit for you!
In His Gospel in the New Testament, Mark tells how Jesus and the disciples were walking from Bethany to Jerusalem, and Jesus got hungry. They saw a beautiful, healthy-looking fig tree. It was full of lovely green leaves. Only fig trees filled with delicious fruit should have such lush foliage. Except- when Jesus approached the tree, He saw that there wasn’t any fruit at all on it. So, He cursed it and said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
This fig tree looked promising. It looked like a tree that was healthy. In fact, it wasn’t even time for this tree to be green and to have fruit. So, on the outside, by all appearances, this was a great tree! But see, it wasn’t.
The purpose of that fig tree was not to just look good. The purpose of that tree was to bear fruit, and to provide nourishment to people who were hungry. It wasn’t doing what it had been created to do.
The tree can’t help it!
No, the tree couldn’t help the fact that it was not healthy enough to have fruit. But we can, and the lesson here is not about figs, but about the spiritual fruit of faith and obedience that God expects of His people.
Too often, we work really hard on our outer appearance. Not just our physical appearance, but also how we “appear.” If we want to appear generous, we make sure that others see us do a generous thing. If we want to appear spiritual, we make sure that others see us do spiritual things. We can look like we have fruit when we really have none.
The root of this, and the ultimate “fruit” that comes from this is pride and self-centeredness. Habakkuk 2 says of the proud person that “His soul is not right within him.” No good fruit can grow from an unhealthy soul.
Religion or relationship
There is a distinct and critical difference between being a religious person, and having a true relationship with Jesus Christ. We were created for relationship with Him. Though religion offers us ways to practice that relationship, when that’s all we have it’s just not enough; and we know it in the depths of our soul.
Those who look good on the outside but don’t bear true spiritual fruit are not living the lives they were created to live. It’s an unfulfilled life.
We all have been that person. We all have put on our “best behavior” to make a good impression, to get a better job, to sway circumstances in our favor. Thankfully, God is merciful and forgives those moments when our “best behavior” is our worst deception.
But when we live in that place where our leaves say fruit, but our branches are empty- that’s when we know that something is not right in our soul. That’s when we know that we are not connected to the true vine (John 15).
Real spiritual fruit is rooted, as I said, in faith and obedience. Its yield is the glory of God, with very little attention on ourselves. Spiritual fruit nourishes us and others. It grows in the right season, and is sweet and refreshing. It grows the Kingdom of God by pointing others back to Him.
Pretty but fruitless trees tell passersby, “See how good I look. I’m such a good tree!” Real fruit allows us to say, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
That’s the kind of people God wants us to be, and I find it significant that Jesus took the time, His last week before the cross, to teach us this lesson.
Look at your own life today and examine your fruit. Are you connected to the vine? Or are you giving only an outward appearance, but not bearing fruit that naturally comes when we are really connected to Him? Take some moments today to reflect on the importance of bearing true fruit and to know the condition of your soul as we observe the next few days of Holy Week.