And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.…
This incident is, from first to last, an acted parable. It would, perhaps, be truer to say, that it is an acted prophecy. In the East action was, and still is, often a more vivid and effective way of communicating truth than language. When a prophet of Israel sat in sackcloth, with dust on his head, by the side of the road along which the royal chariot would pass, his action was a much more powerful rebuke to the monarch for neglect of duty than a sermon would have been — even though it had an introduction, three arguments, and a conclusion. The East. as I have said, is traditionally the home of eloquent action; but in all countries and ages-human action is a kind of human language, and it is often much more impressive than words which fall upon the ear. In our intercourse with each other, and in our worship of God, action expresses thought and feeling in a condensed way which often could only be put into very cumbrous and awkward language; and our Lord on this occasion was teaching — teaching in the main by action. He was acting a parable, and no objection can be urged against His action to which teaching by parable — that is to say, by putting forward an imaginary story as if it were literally true — is not always open. What, then, was the lesson which on this occasion He desired to teach? Was it simply the shame and guilt in every responsible creature of God's hand, of moral unfruitfulness? Did He cause the tree to wither because it was the symbol of nations and of men who do nothing for His glory and nothing for their fellows? That He does punish such unfruitfulness is certain: but this is not the lesson He would teach us here. The time of figs was not yet. To use figurative language, the tree did net sin by not producing figs at a time of the year when they could only have been produced in the open air by what we call a freak of nature, or, rather, in despite of her ordinary rules. The tree was a symbol of that which, in man, is worse sin than a merely fruitless life. It had leaves, you will observe, though it had no fruit. That was the distinction of this particular tree among its fellows ranged along the road, with their bare, leafless, unpromising branches. They held out hopes of nothing beyond what met the eye. This tree, with its abundant leaves, gave promise of fruit that might be well-nigh ripe; and thus it was a symbol of moral or of religious pretentiousness. Not simply as unfruitful, but because, being unfruitful, it was covered with leaves, it was a fitting symbol of that want of correspondence between profession and practice — between claims and reality — between the surface appearances of life and its real direction and purpose — which our Lord condemned so often and so sternly in the men of His time. And, as representing this, it was condemned too.
Parallel VersesKJV: And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.