We learn it from the figs

A sermon for Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11 (Procession), Mark 11:12-14 (Eucharist Gospel), Mark 14:1 – 15:47) (Passion)

In my four years of high school, our football team won twelve games, six of those in one year. Save that one, the Home Coming parade was a grand affair, almost. Yes, there always were class floats, and there always were class beauty queens, and there always were cheer leaders, and there was even the occasional school club thing. Everyone was there, students, teachers, parents, some folks from prior classes, some younger siblings. Everyone cheered. Regardless of the celebratory cheers there was a sense of the inevitable. We knew what that evening’s results would be, it would not be pretty, and sometimes it could be ugly, once really ugly, 62 points ugly.

Waving our palms, parading in to “… sweet hosanna ring….”  feels a lot like those home coming parades. In one sense its full of expectations, finally all our long held hopes and dreams are going to be fulfilled. Shortly victory will be ours. Our enemy will be vanquished, and we will be free of oppression. Life will be as it is supposed to be. We will reign supreme. All those whom we long feared, will bow in submission to us.

So why this uneasy sense? So why does Jesus cursing a fig tree make the hair on the backs of our necks stand up?

It’s an odd little story, all of two verses. There are figs all around, Bethphage means house of unripe figs; Bethany means house of figs, (Sakenfeld, 2009) and where the whole Lazarus thing happens; and it got everyone’s attention. Figs or no figs, where is the story going?

Throughout scripture figs are a common prophetic parallel for Israel. Sometimes indicating peace and prosperity. (Sakenfeld, 2009) Though Jeremiah, Joel and Micah compare Israel to a fruitless fig tree.  (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010) Will there be prosperity or failure?

That it is not the season for figs perhaps foreshadows high expectations, of the so recent joyous welcome, and deep disappointment everyone silently fears. Israel’s prior fruitlessness preceded time of divine judgement. (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010) Is judgement at hand? Whose?

Jesus’ curse emphasizes the downward spiral of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. (Harrelson, 2003) And all this happens in the shadow of the Mount of Olives the site of the bitter battle between David and Absalom. And also the site of God’s ultimate victory revealed by Zechariah. (14:1ff) (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010)

Is this the time for final victory or yet another defeat? I wonder ~ I wonder.


Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Petersen, D. L., & Gavenat, B. R. (2010). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.

Sakenfeld, K. D. (2009). New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon.