Body and Blood of Christ

The Barren Fig Tree

O n the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.   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. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it.   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; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 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." 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. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered."   Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God.”

Mark 11:12-19

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The Barren Fig Tree


he strange story of the Barren Fig tree is woven into the account of the cleansing of the Temple which Mark places in the last days of Jesus ministry. By contrast, John’s account of the cleansing takes place at the beginning of Jesus ministry.*

It is, indeed, a strange story.  It was not the season for figs. The tree was hardly to blame. There is symbolism in the weaving of the stories.

Twice, Jesus refers to the Temple as his Father’s House. Lk. 2:41-51 and Jn. 2:13-17. It was the seat of the Divine presence in Israel.

As the story is presented in Mark, Jesus had gone to the Temple just after his entry into Jerusalem to the acclaim of the crowds. “He looked all round him, but as it was now late, he went to Bethany with the Twelve.”

There is a night between this and his return to the Temple next day. During this night was there perhaps some distress and anger growing in him at the thought of the misuse of the Temple, the turning of the Father’s house into a place of commerce – even if this commerce was seemingly directed towards the service of the Temple?

Somehow, the fig tree without fruit – a fruit for his hunger – became a metaphor for the barrenness of the temple rituals, now missing their focus towards the Father. From this no fruit was possible. There had to be a cleansing, a purification of the Temple; a purification of the whole concept of the Temple, a shift from being a place to becoming a person – the person of Jesus. Here, the Temple is truly a house of prayer “for all the peoples” – for us all.

Oisín Feore

*Please refer to Unfolding the Story of Jesus for another commentary: Jesus drives the Moneylenders from the Temple. John 2:13-22



Quill Pen


This is the Story of Jesus drawn from the four Evangelists

Fig branch with new leaves and fruit

Unfolding the Story of jesus

Gospel passages accompanied by a number of brief commentaries

Unfolding the story of jesus