This appears a very odd little passage and the question initially may understandably be: ''Why did Mark put it in his Gospel?'' You will note that the first part of this little tale, v 12-14, takes place on the morning of one day and the second part, v 20, 21, on the morning of the second day. Importantly, in between and the passage we study tomorrow, v 15-19- the cleansing of the Temple- came chronologically in between. Firstly let's look at the difficulties the story of the withered fig tree presents:
The story does not ring true. Think of the many incidents in Jesus's ministry which we have read about, such as the beautiful story of the woman with the issue of blood, and they attract us to Jesus just as many people were drawn to follow Him in the days when He was alive. However, in this instance Jesus is portrayed as rather peevish. He approaches a tree for fruit during the season when there wouldn't have been any-and we know by His parables, how knowledgeable He was about farming and so on-and He uses His miraculous powers to destroy it! Surely, from what we have learned, Jesus sought to only use them for good and we have His trials in the wilderness with the devil to emphasise His commitment to that principle. For instance, He refused to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger after forty days without food!
There was no way that this tree could have been producing figs at that time of year, just before Passover, now our Easter. Mark has put us in an awkward situation: do we take it that he wished to show us a rather unpleasant side of Jesus?
However, when we look at it from the angle of it being an enacted parable then we begin to see the sense in its recording. Just as Ezekiel lay on his side for a large period of time, Jeremiah bought an area of land when it appeared madness to do that, Hosea married a prostitute, Jesus was calling the observer into a bigger picture through His actions.
It is essential that we understand why clever Mark wrapped the story of Jesus' cleansing the Temple with this seemingly obscure incident. There was the promise of fruit on the tree because there were leaves, but no fruit could be found. Equally, the people of Israel seemed to be living in obedience to God through their diligent observation of the minutiae of the Law, but their lives showed no fruit whatsoever! The Messiah had come and they were so wrapped up in reading all the extra material they had added to Scripture that they couldn't see the Godhead of the Christ who stood before them! ''Utter madness'', we may cry, but the challenge is for us too. Are you so caught up in yourself that you do not take a step back and observe the world as it is? Is your world too small? You and one or two others you have added to make your life palatable? When you listen, watch or read the news, do you retreat in your mind to the safety and security of your salary/pension and home? I remember when we had the shop, an elderly lady who lived in a council flat in the village, came in to buy something, and she told me that she could no longer bear to watch or read the news anymore because it upset her so much. She said that she would be in floods of tears at the end of watching a newscast. Is that you? Does it break your heart as it does God's to see this world in such a state?