Early in the morning, as He was on His way back to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, He went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then He said to it, ”May you never bear fruit again!” (Matthew 21:19)
The poor defenseless fig tree immediately withered and died.
Was Jesus so disappointed and angered at not filling his face with figs that He cursed the poor tree’s very existence? This cruel reaction seems out of character for someone representing the God of heaven and promoting empathy.
Worse yet, Jesus tells His disciples that if they have true faith they will gain the same power to also destroy such fig trees, and, even throw great mountains into the sea! Is that what religion is for—to increase one’s power for destruction? Inwardly, I do not believe that Jesus sought to destroy the ecosystem or any living thing in it.
So why is such a silly story even worth mentioning in the Holy Text? What does Jesus’ strange behavior here have to do with teaching us about the salvation of the human race?
What gives here? Am I missing something?
According to scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg the Holy Word contains deeper meanings than those offered by a mere literal (terrestrial) interpretation of its narratives. On these deeper (or higher) levels, the Bible communicates profound spiritual messages—all of which are eternally relevant to one’s personal salvation.
Swedenborg claimed that a “tree” symbolizes a belief system or one’s personal worldview—because the mind’s thoughts are rooted in the soil of our chosen principles, and therefore, grow, branch out and flower in a way that expresses these very principles. A non-fruiting tree represents a limited worldview or intellect that offers nothing valuable (fruit) to others in society. So, in this biblical story, Jesus was symbolically communicating the idea that if anyone sincerely follows His teachings they will be able to eliminate such non-productive thinking from their minds.
I don’t know about you, but such a rarefied message, contained deep within the stories and words of Holy Scripture, seems to me to be perfectly in character with the communications of an infinitely wise and caring God!