The Figurative Fig Tree
Theology Matters: on the parables, The Fig Tree
Matthew 24:32-44; Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33
“Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near. I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.” - Luke 21:29-33 CEB
This short parable is not very memorable. It cannot be ignored entirely as it is included in Matthew, Mark and Luke; yet when we think of a fig tree in the Gospel we are more likely to remember the one that withered as Jesus cursed it. Perhaps the parable was more memorable in aramaic, maybe it even rhymed! I still hear my mother saying, “red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning” each time I notice a red sky.
There is a dichotomy to the message here as well. All of us know how to interpret the signs of our world, whether color of the sky, or the buds of the plants, but often struggle to interpret God’s movement in the world around us. The work of the Spirit is always easiest to identify after the fact. In the moment, the work of God can be excused as coincidence, dismissed as indigestion or worse.
Jesus is calling us to be mindful of the work of God in the world around us. Jesus knows that without this instruction we will likely miss it. There is truth in this parable as it continues as well. Those who heard these words from Jesus, or at least those of that generation, witnessed ‘everything’ in the power of the Resurrection and Ascension. These words remain to remind us to seek God. The wisdom of the parable lies not only in recognizing the signs of God’s work in the world, but to hold the expectation of seeing God as a priority in our lives.
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25 ESV