What does a withered fig tree represent to you? On Monday, during the last week of his life, Jesus passes by a fig tree which has no fruit on it and says, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14). Later that day Jesus enters the Temple and overturns the tables of the moneychangers, saying that the house of prayer has been turned into a den of robbers. The fig tree and the temple are put together for a purpose.
If I were to have a dream about a withered fig tree, I think I would be drawn to ask what that image might be trying to teach me. For me figs are wonderful things. A ripe fig right off the tree is sweet and juicy and refreshing. If figs make it from the tree into the house without being eaten, there are lots of ways to enjoy them. Some like to make fig preserves. Try putting fresh figs into a bowl of vanilla ice cream with port poured over the top. Pure joy! The image of a withered fig tree would, for me, represent the loss of that joy. A fig tree has such potential. We wait for its budding and blooming. The figs when they arrive are bountiful, enough for the birds and our family all to get plenty enough for a good long time. Figs are rich and luxurious and I light up a little every time I see a fig tree.
A withered fig tree for me represents waste, decay, and death. It symbolizes dashed hopes, deep desires not being lived into, rich potential not being realized. If I were to dream of a withered fig tree, I would ask myself what rich potential in my life is not being brought to fruition. I would ponder what sorts of things I might be called to cultivate in my life so that my potential could be realized. The withered fig tree would mean death to me and I would want to think about what sort of death experiences I might be dealing with and what sort of life I might be missing.
The image of a withered fig tree brings grieving to mind and it would have during Jesus’ day as well. The temple has become a dead place. It was built with such hope and it represented God in the midst of the difficult world. But it had become a place that simply was protecting itself. It had moved from representing life to being a symbol of death itself. The temple, instead of proclaiming hope to the poor and persecuted, made them pay an exorbitant tax. Instead of assuring the poor that God loved them and cared for them, the temple pushed the poor further and further away. The temple itself was a withered fig tree bearing no fruit and giving no joy.
In all the gospels Jesus himself replaces the temple and becomes the symbol of life and goodness. While the temple had lost all its meaning, Jesus provides new meaning for the people of faith. All are loved, all are forgiven. We don’t find God locked up within the walls of a human construct; we find God in the midst of us, working his will as freely as the wind blows. God comes to each of us to give us hope.
Holy Week might give each of us a chance to reflect on what must die in our lives in order for us to see God more clearly. What are we holding onto that keeps us from seeing the fresh new spirit of the living God? Are we so frightened of change that we cling to things as they are just because that’s what we know? Are there relationship realities which threaten to destroy us that we need to face? Are our hearts closed to new ways of looking at oppressed people? Have we given up on the truth that the best is always yet to come, that no matter how hard life is hope awaits? Have we come to think that God can only operate the way humans do? Have we come to equate our wills with that of God? Do we think of God as distant and powerless? There are certain things in life which need to die in order for our truest potential to come about.
If you are frightened, cold, closed up, protective, holding onto offenses done to you long ago, resenting others for what they have done to you or not done for you, mean-spirited, greedy, or stingy, let it die. Jesus is the better way for our hearts to live. What in your life needs to die so that you may live more fully? The resurrection is not something that just happened to Jesus. The resurrection is what is offered to each of us every day.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.