The Withered Fig Tree (Mark 11:12)
‘Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. And he addressed the fig tree. 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again' he said. And his disciples heard him say this.’
Now this is a most extraordinary account from St. Mark. Jesus no more expected to find the tree laden with figs, than would a Floridian expect to find oranges in spring. So, why did he curse the fig tree? If he wanted to perform a symbolic action to address Israel’s fruitlessness, he would have done so when figs were in season. It seems like Jesus is just having a bad day, throwing a Messiah temper tantrum.
Mark continues: Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots. Peter remembered. 'Look, Rabbi,' he said to Jesus 'the fig tree you cursed has withered away.' Jesus answered, 'Have faith in God. I tell you solemnly, if anyone says to this mountain, "Get up and throw yourself into the sea", with no hesitation in his heart but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
Cursing a tree, when it is not in season, because it fails to satisfy your hunger, is irrational. Making it whither to its roots, is impossible. So what is the meaning of this Irrational Miracle? If Jesus did it, then it must have something to do with his Father’s Love. As such, his initial response was to call his disciples to Unconditional Faith in his Father.
He concludes, saying, “I tell you therefore: everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours.” For me, these words of Jesus are among his most challenging to believe. They are devoid of all the usual qualifiers we have come to embrace in effort align our lived experience of prayer with his Promise of God -qualifiers like, ‘in God’s time’ or, ‘in God’s way, not mine’. Every fiber within me wants to decry, “Yes Lord, but…” -Yes Lord, but surely you were exaggerating; Yes Lord, but I don’t have that kind of faith; Yes Lord, but I tried and it did not work; Yes Lord, but nobody I know believes like that.
In spite of this all, I am driven to admit to the possibility, that in the context of Faith, everything is possible. Whether something is insignificantly impossible, like withering a fig tree; or momentously impossible, like casting a mountain into the sea -the degree of impossibility is irrelevant to the prayer of faith, for it is God who is doing the work. If all things are possible for God, then the impossible is possible for all who have Faith in his Love.
This I know, Jesus said: ‘Be it done unto you according to your faith.’ and, when you pray - ‘…believe that you have it already.’ If these Words come from Jesus, there must be truth attached to them. For whatever qualifiers that do exist in this Mystery of Faith, I must not stop believing with all my heart in God’s Providential Love. For this reason I say I am driven to Believe.
In my own life, I have prayed and seen an old hobbling nun, bent over and gnarled by arthritis, instantly healed and begin dancing, hopping and waving with joy. I have seen deaf ears instantly opened, and a short leg grow while I held it in prayer. In these, and in countless “less spectacular” miracles, have I been privileged to be a conduit of God’s Love -to witness Faith unleash the Power of God.
Less than one percent of the prayers I prayed in my life have had miraculous results. But what would have happened to that One Percent if I did not risk being a Fool for Christ? Would another Fool have stepped up to the plate, or would those lives have remained unchanged?
And what about the Ninety Nine percent that failed to see miraculous results? None were devastated by the lack of a miracle. Virtually all were touched by an act of Love. Many experienced some degree of what was Hoped for, and even more came away with something good but unexpectedly different.
Statistically, I am a dismal failure when it comes to praying for miracles, and it is this Fear of Failure which Satan relentlessly uses to thwart my prayers of Faith. Of this I am ashamed: of the number of prayers I have not prayed; of all what could have been, but is not -if I were but more faithfully obedient to Love.
Oh blessed be God, for not remembering my failures, for calling to mind only my obedience. He does not demand of my soul to be successful -only obedient. And my only failed prayers were those not prayed. The Finger of God does what it pleases. How, and why, is not for me to know. But certain it is that he is calling me to Faith.
Romans 4:17+ could be titled ‘Abraham, Father of Fig Tree Faith’: “Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist. Though it seemed Abraham's hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised… Even the thought that his body was past fatherhood … and Sarah too old to become a mother, did not shake his belief. Since God had promised it, Abraham refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, convinced that God had power to do what he had promised. …Scripture however does not refer only to him but to us as well… our faith too will be 'considered' if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”.
Father, it is inexplicable why you have chosen us, weakened with sin, to possess so precious a key to unlock your Floodgates of Love. But such is your Will for us to exercise the Gift of Faith. Jesus, by the Blood of your Cross, may I too become Obedient to Love. Holy Spirit, you are the Power of Love made manifest. Seize now my soul, that I may Hope, and Believe, and in so Doing, become a Wellspring of your Love.