In the Gospel for today's Daily Office readings taken from Matthew, a hungry Jesus curses a fig tree with no fruit, and it withers on the spot. This has always seemed harsh to me. What about Luke 13:6-9, where Jesus tells a parable in which a gardener pleads for one more year to cultivate fruit from a tree that has not borne any for three years? Why didn't today's tree get a second chance?
Context, context, context. This passage reminds us that context is everything in Scripture. Here's what precedes this encounter: Palm Sunday with all the hoopla and fanfare. Then Jesus visits the temple, where he is disgusted to find entrepreneurs cheating pilgrims who need to change their money or buy animals for temple rituals. The powerful elites (priests and scribes), who were no doubt getting a cut of this action, voice their displeasure. Jesus stumps them with a Scripture quote as he leaves.
Here's the key: Our hungry Jesus was not just disappointed that the tree had no fruit. He observed that it had many leaves. It was all show and no dough, or all hat and no cattle, as they say in Texas. That was precisely his beef with the power elites. They had pretty vestments and elaborate rules. But they offered no true food. Jesus' response to the fig tree reflected his disappointment with the priests and scribes.
And what of us? May we find action steps for all the ills that sadden us. May we bear fruit.