Jesus decrees, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" (Mt 21:19)
What's With That Fig Tree, Anyway?
While Jesus and His disciples travel to Jerusalem, Jesus becomes hungry and approaches a fig tree looking for food. Finding the tree barren, Jesus decrees, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" (Mt 21:19) The fig tree withers at His command.
I have found it difficult to reconcile this story with the merciful Jesus I believe in. I know He uses the incident to teach His disciples what they can accomplish with faith in God. Still, to me it has always smacked just the tiniest bit of a tantrum. What did the poor tree do to deserve death? In St. Mark's version of the story, the tree has no fruit because "it was not the season for figs" (Mk 11:13). How can Christ the Good Shepherd, who has promised to forgive and forget our gravest sins as often as we repeat them, drain life from a tree for complying with the laws of nature?
A similarly perplexing moment comes at the end of the parable of the talents. The story is familiar: Three servants receive varying amounts of talents from their master before his journey; two of them invest the money, earning the master's praise when he returns, but the third buries it, earning his rage. At first glance, the parable simply demonstrates that God wants us to use our special abilities for the benefit of the world and the Kingdom. It's an affirming, even inspiring, message. But on a closer look, the story seems to take a harsh turn. Jesus concludes with the master's command that the single talent be taken away from the "wicked and lazy" servant and given to the servant who has 10, "[f]or to all those who have, more will be given ... but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away" (Mt 25: 26, 29).
We may be tempted to protest this apparent unfairness. Isn't it obvious that those who don't have much are more in need than those who have a lot? How could our loving God steal from the poor to give to the rich? It seems as absurd and unjust as cursing that harmless fig tree; neither story appears to fit the image of Jesus as Divine Mercy.
Nonetheless, as Thanksgiving was approaching, my thoughts were drawn to those stories. We know that God is generous and that "we do well always and everywhere to give [Him] thanks." I believe that these stories help us to see the depths of His generosity and why gratitude is so important to our spiritual growth.
Our Lord said to St. Faustina:
I desire to bestow My graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them. You, at least, come to Me as often as possible and take these graces they do not want to accept ... My Heart drinks only of the ingratitude and forgetfulness of souls living in the world. They have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces (Diary, 367).
Perhaps the talents given to the servants in the parable can be interpreted not only as symbols of each person's God-given aptitudes but also of the graces that God offers every soul to help her grow in the spiritual life. In her Diary, St. Faustina often laments the times when she has wasted graces and vows never to waste them again. It is possible, then, for God's graces to rain down on us and, instead of saturating us with nourishment to our souls, slip across the impermeable skins we have put on and fall, unused, to the ground. From there, God invites receptive souls like St. Faustina's to gather them up so that they may fulfill their life-giving purpose. Although God wants all souls to take "as many treasures from My Heart as you can carry" (Diary, 294), not all souls do. Rather than allow these treasures to stagnate in a miserly soul, therefore, God gives them to one who truly rejoices in the wealth.
And perhaps we can compare the fig tree to a soul who receives special graces to give God glory by doing His will in a way as unlikely — even miraculous — as a tree bearing fruit out of season. If that soul consistently refuses to cooperate with these graces, she atrophies and eventually starves, for grace is the soul's only food. It is not God's petty bitterness that curses the soul, but her resistance to being blessed instead of cursed.
When we pray in thanksgiving every day, let us obey Jesus' instruction to St. Faustina: "Be grateful for the smallest of my graces, because your gratitude compels Me to grant you new graces" (Diary, 1701). As the holy Mass tells us, our desire to thank Him is itself a gift. Let us pray for the grace not to squander that gift but to "Act like a beggar who does not back away when he gets more alms [than he asked for], but offers thanks the more fervently" (Diary, 294).
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.