Matt. 21:18-22:14 – The Danger of Being All Leaves and No Fruit
This section begins with a visual or “living” parable as Jesus came into the city and decided to look for something to eat. He found a fig tree with leaves but no fruit, and cursed the fig tree, which caused it to wither up. The disciples were all caught up in the apparent power of this demonstration and seemed to skip over completely the meaning behind why he did what he did. Granted, Jesus does answer their amazement with a promise that whatever they pray for will be given to them if they “have faith and do not doubt” (Matt. 21:21).
But the unexplained point of this living parable is that fig leaves appear about the same time or a little after the fig tree produces fruit (according to my NIV Commentary). So for this tree to have leaves but no fruit is a kind of “false advertisement.” The world no doubt operates on a principal that it’s better to look good than to be good. In the Kingdom of Heaven it’s all about the fruit that comes from what is really inside of you. It’s not enough to look good, but your life should produce the results/the fruit that speaks from what kind of person you are. This tree suffered the consequences of looking good but having no fruit to show for itself. Over the course of this section Jesus is going to warn the chief priests and elders, through several other parables, that the Kingdom of God is going to be taken from them and given to other because, like this tree, they may have been good at “looking good” but they do not have any “fruit” to show for themselves.
When Jesus’ authority was questioned in verses 23-27 by the chief priests and elders he answered their question with a question. Their deliberation over an answer showed an unwillingness to speak from what was really in their hearts. They acted on what was politically expedient, but it cost them their part of the coming Kingdom of God. In the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21: 28-32) it wasn’t the son who said he was going to work in the vineyard, but the son who said he wasn’t going to, but did anyway; it was the second son who did what he was told. So they were being warned that the social outcasts, the tax collectors and prostitutes, were going to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven before them because they listened to and obeyed John the Baptist. And even after seeing that, the elders were unwilling to acknowledge John.
The history of how the people of Israel treated God’s prophets can be seen in the parable of the Landowner (Matt. 21: 33-44). God had given the Kingdom to these people to shepherd but when he sent his representatives to them to check on their progress and get their “rent check,” they mistreated his representatives, to the very point of killing the landowner’s son. The elders pronounced their own judgment when they agreed that whoever had done this should be punished.
In the parable of the Marriage Banquet (Matt. 22: 1-14) Jesus warned the elders that they cannot afford to ignore the bidding of the king and that as a result of their mistreatment of his servants, the invitiation that was meant for them will be opened to all who are willing to come (though there is a warning that just coming is not enough but one must be dressed appropriately, that is to have a prepared heart).
For us the warning still holds that it is not enough to rest in our cultural or heritage claim that we are entitled to participate in Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven just because we’ve been going to church all of our lives or because our family has been a part of such and such church community of X-number of generations. We have to beware of not being like the fig tree parading around with our leaves all out showing everyone how righteous or religious we are but having no fruit to show what is really inside of our hearts. The inside has to balance with the outside. Public piety is meaningless and a disservice to the Kingdom of Heaven if there it isn’t balance with one’s personal prayerfulness. That we are called is a blessing, but we must be careful to answer the call daily with the way we choose to live our lives. JBB 8/19/2005