Empty Trees

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 11:12-25

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”


At first, cursing the fig tree appears to be an overly harsh and unreasonable reaction by Jesus. Consider it, however, in light of what Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Now consider what St. Mark tells us of the season. The fig tree was in full leaf, meaning the figs had already grown and been picked by the orchard owner. Jesus was not expecting fruit before it could reasonably mature, he was expecting some fruit to be left on the tree after the harvest in accordance with God’s law. In Leviticus 23:22, we read: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

Jesus is the fulfillment of that law. Jesus said, “When I was hungry you gave me food. … Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 35: 40). We are to leave fruit on our abundant branches for the poor and for the sojourner who may just happen by at any time, perhaps even in an inconvenient season.

Jesus is not unreasonable. He would not expect fruit if he did not help us to produce it in the first place. Jesus said “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Jesus abides in the hungry sojourner, but he is also the source by which we may serve him. Remember, it is through God’s goodness that our branches produce anything at all, even the tiny fig. In every season of our lives, we can save a portion of that which he has given us so that we, in turn, can offer it back to him.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Kuching – The Church of the Province of South East Asia
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Okla.


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