I can’t help but feel a bit bad for the poor little fig tree Jesus cursed.
It seems unfair! Mark makes it quite clear in his Gospel that “it was not the time for figs.” Nevertheless, when Jesus sees that the tree is figless, he curses it so that it “withered to its roots” (Mk 11:13-14, 20). But why curse the tree when Jesus knew full well that it wouldn’t produce figs outside its season?
Perhaps Jesus is trying to teach us something about ourselves. We are very prone to present lots of excuses for why we cannot bear spiritual fruit, and sometimes our excuses are actually pretty rational. However, Jesus presents a “no excuse policy” for works of charity. If the fig tree withered because it produced no fruit, even though it had the rational excuse that it was not the time for figs, then we too will wither if we do not produce spiritual fruit, even if we have perfectly rational excuses for why we cannot.
This interpretation reflects St. Josemaría Escrivá’s understanding of the passage:
“Jesus curses the fig tree because in it he has found only the appearance of fruitfulness—many leaves. Let this be a lesson to us. There is no excuse for being unproductive. Some might say ‘I don’t know enough…’ But that is no excuse. Or else, ‘I am unwell, I haven’t much talent, the conditions are not right, my surroundings…’ These aren’t excuses either” (Friends of God, no. 51).
Someone might object, however, that “making excuses is one thing, but doing the impossible is another.” Indeed, it was impossible for the fig true to bear fruit out of season; such an act is beyond the power of the nature of the fig tree.
Is Jesus asking us to do something impossible? Yes, in fact, he is! Living a life of Christian charity is beyond the power of human nature alone: we need God’s grace to bear fruit! We can’t bear fruit just by ourselves. As the Lord himself says, “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
Jesus is the true vine—perhaps we could also say the true fig tree—and we are the branches. If we become disconnected from Christ, we will promptly wither (Jn 15:6). But connected to him, we will bear much fruit. Since our power to bear fruit is from Christ, there is no excuse not to be supernaturally fruitful, bearing fruit in season and out of season (2 Tm 4:2), a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold (Mt 13:8).
So what are you waiting for? Now is the time for figs!