Yesterday, some friends and me discussed a strange story from the Gospels. We had some ideas, but could not really determine what is the correct interpretation. So, some more thoughts here. The story was that where Jesus cursed the fig tree, in Mk 11:12-14, 19-24:

12 On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry.
13 Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. […]
19 When evening came, they would go out of the city.
20 As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.
21 Being reminded, Peter *said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”
22 And Jesus *answered saying to them, “Have faith in God.
23 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.
24 “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

Now there happen to be many explanations for this story. Most of them make a story where the fig tree figuratively represents the fate of Israel. However, the problem with this is that it might as well be an “generated explanation”, just to have one. Because it’s not justified by the teaching that Jesus himself connects with the event (“Have faith in God”, Mk 11:22-24).

So I’m gonna try another interpretation. According to the story, Jesus was hungry. He saw a “fig tree in leaf”, and though he knew it was not the season for figs he thought, if any tree here has fruit at all, than this leafy one over there. Because, the figs develop 2-3 months after the leafs, so from a tree with fully developed leafs there might be some figs expected.

However, the tree had no figs. What made Jesus angry about this was probably that it was such a “hypocritical” tree: promising fruit even before season by its look, but having none. And because he was angry, he made the tree whither. Now, of course, Jesus knew that a tree cannot be “hypocritical”, and that there was no possibility to be angry about any “moral failure” of a tree. As there was no moral failure, there was no reason for moral punishment. There’s not even the possibility of moral punishment: a tree has no qualia experiences, so is not able to suffer, so is not able to suffer punishment.

Therefore, the whole event is no real anger and real punishment, but something that is just anger and punishment from the perspective of the sentinent being (Jesus). Seen that way, the behavior is allowable: Jesus did just what was admissible to man, as the master of plants and trees.

Regarding the use of supernatural power: it’s just that the divinity of Jesus glimpses through at this event. That’s what his disciples marvel at later. The event itself was “unnecessary” and has no meaning in itself, it was just “allowable” (and note that it’s the only event of this sort that we read from Jesus). But as the event shows divine power, it’s also a situation to teach about this. And that’s what Jesus did then. Which implies, yes, there might be situations in our lives as well where we might use divine power though its not “necessary” and even “without meaning” (like throwing a mountain into the sea). God grants this sort of stuff just because we prayed for it.


Start date: 2009-01-21
Post date: 2009-01-21
Version date: 2009-01-22 (for last meaningful change)

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