Question 113:

The Gospels tell of Jesus cursing a fig tree because it carried no figs. What kind of loving care is that? And how can Jesus, whom you consider to be the Son of God, experience hunger?


Answer: This question refers to Matthew 21:18-22.


According to the faith of the Church, Jesus was wholly God and wholly man. In His human life here on earth He was just like any other human being, except that He was without sin. This is confirmed in all four Gospels of the New Testament.

If given sufficient water and possibly some feed, the fig tree can also thrive on poor and stony soil; a non-fruiting fig tree is therefore justly considered to be a nuisance (Luke 13:6-9).


The biblical text in question is, however, not a punishment miracle – how can a natural plant be punished? – rather, it is a sign of action. Jesus' actions in the temple, which are described in the immediately preceding verse (Matthew 21:12-17) are to be interpreted as the judgment of Israel. Jesus came to the fig tree growing along His way in the hope to find figs to eat. Reference is made to Jesus hunger in order to explain His interest in the tree. But He finds no fruit on the tree although it bears leaves. Normally, he should have found at least the buds of the fruit, which serve as nourishment. The severity of the curse and the immediate withering of the tree show that this is a prophetic sign which points to something far beyond itself to a much sadder kind of withering. The miracle therefore has nothing to do with frustration or hunger. Rather, it is about Israel (see especially 21:43; and 22:3 and 23). Despite external signs, Israel was without fruit. The withering of the fig tree is an apocalyptic word and judgment which will be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temples (cf. Luke 13:6-9: there the parable of the fig tree has the same symbolism as the sign of action here. Regarding the symbol of the barren fig tree for Israel see also Jeremiah 8:18; Micah 7:1, Isaiah 5:1-8; Hosea 8:10,16).


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