How many nameless tree lovers have felt sorry for the fig tree that Jesus cursed?
Anonymous posted the following comment on my blog
It’s impossible to practice what Jesus preached. He told you to turn the other cheek, but is that what he did when an out of season fruit tree didn’t produce a snack on demand for Jesus, or did he put a nasty curse on the big plant? Ask yourself, WWJD? [What would Jesus do? – added]
“Think not that I came to send peace; I came to send a sword!” Some prince of peace, eh?
Jesus’ words ”I came to send the sword,” (Matthew 10:34) means, of course, that Jesus will be the occasion for strong dissension. Here is Luke’s Gospel (12:51): Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division/a parting [Greek diamerismos].
But what I want to focus on here is not swords but trees; Anonymous’s fig tree. I was puzzled by his contrast between Jesus turning the other cheek and cursing ”an out of season fruit tree [that] didn’t produce a snack on demand.” Is Anonymous exposing a dark side of Jesus? Here is the relevant passage in Matthew:
And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only LEAVES. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
Mark (11:13-14) adds ”for it was not the season for figs”: And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.”
The words in italics mean that although it was not the season of figs, yet there were leaves on the fig tree. A healthy fig tree doesn’t have leaves out of season. As Jesus says in Luke 21:29b-30: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.” So, the tree that Jesus curses is not a tree that will ever bear fruit. It has lost its purpose. It’s no different to a withered tree.
It was when I read this piece by Yisroel Hakohen, that I understood why Anonymous was so sorry for this anonymous fig tree:
“If people try to remain good even at times that call for them to commit acts of bloodshed and to murder the enemy they will be able to perfect their character. Therefore, in war, the Torah permits the killing of enemy soldiers, but a fruit tree is not a soldier; why should the Jews deprive anyone from benefiting from its fruit by destroying it. In addition, a Jew, whether he is a soldier or civilian is forbidden to destroy any useful thing needlessly such as destroying useful clothing, utensils, fields, property etc. The Torah does permit the chopping down of non-fruit trees. If the Jewish soldier will have regard for a fruit tree or other useful items while in the midst of battle this will help keep the Jewish soldier balanced and enable him to retain his humanity. He is only allowed to destroy what is necessary for the war, such as the enemy, but nothing else.”
I ask Yisroel this question. What if an Israeli commander decides to do a Malcolm. In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” Macduff says:
“Despair the charm. Malcolm had his army cut down trees to disguise their numbers for attack of Macbeth’s castle, creating the illusion that the forest was moving towards the castle. ” (Macbeth 1:3:50-54).
But if you’re going to do a Malcolm make sure there are enough leaves on the trees to fulfill your purpose.