On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.' " The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, they went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!" "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins."
Let's go over this event one more time.
Jesus was giving His disciples "real live parables" to help them and the crowds understand His teaching of God's Kingdom. He rode on a donkey; He got hungry; He came to a fig-tree which, though in leaf, had no figs on it and He then uttered His verdict; He entered the temple, cleaned it up so that teaching could proceed.
In riding on the foal He was announcing Himself in terms of Zechariah's prophecies. In throwing out the money changers He was teaching that Almighty God requires holiness and hates any attempt to use His worship for personal gain. But what about the fig tree? Jesus said what any fig grower would have said. "This fig tree had had sufficient opportunity to come up with the goods but it is giving no fruit. Time's up. It has to come out."
So He was acting out His parable. So? Look at what happened when Peter pointed out to Jesus and the other disciples that the fig tree had withered? Mark does not tell us that Jesus had an explanation ready about fig trees. Or even about cursing. Instead, this was the occasion when Jesus talked about faith and forgiveness. Was He changing the topic? It seems like it until we realise that Jesus was really taking up the issue Peter had raised, discussing what He had been doing in the temple. Jesus was not only talking about the fig-tree. He was teaching about Himself and explaining to them the meaning of the cleansing of the temple the day before.
Jesus' answer was very direct. We might say He was "full on". His answer addresses the fear that Peter, and the other disciples, had. They seem to be worrying that Jesus had "cracked it" not only with the fig tree, but with the way He kicked the money-changers out of the temple. If we were there wouldn't we suspect that all the problems and tensions that He had to face had finally got to Him? Wouldn't we suspect He had taken His anger out on the fig tree?
But Jesus got them thinking about faith, faith in God the Father. And neither is it simply some teaching where belief in God makes everything OK. Jesus told His disciples that having faith in God has everything to do with facing up to the problems we face in life. And that includes being angry.
It has to do with facing up to any problems we might encounter about a fig-less fig-tree as much as it has to do with a temple that has become a stock exchange, or a political regime that has become corrupted by marital unfaithfulness. It has as much to do with our relationships with each other, as it has to do with our relationships with the creation around us.
Jesus used His comment to the fig-less fig-tree to help His disciples face the intense anger He had displayed the day before when He cleansed the temple. With His disciples, Jesus had come to Jerusalem at that time of year to pray to the God of Israel. They came at a time when threats hung over Jesus' life. Their own lives were under threat as well.
Zebedee's wife seems to have guessed that a similar fate awaited Jesus to what had come to her cousin's son, her relative, John the Baptist. But Jesus now brought His disciples along to Jerusalem because it was time for them to pray; indeed they should be praying like they had never prayed before.
Something mysterious was indeed going on. Remember we are assuming that Jesus used the occasion of the withering of the figless fig-tree to help His disciples face up to what was happening. Jesus was once again living out of the Old Testament. Read Jeremiah 8:4-22 sometime. In particular 11-13:
They have healed the wound of my people lightly saying, "Peace, peace" when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed all kinds of atrocious acts? No, not at all; no shame they couldn't remember what it is to blush! Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they will be overthrown, says the Lord. When I would gather them, says the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave to them has passed away from them.
Jesus accepted the creatures of God's creation - the ass and the fig tree. And in riding on the ass He showed He accepted that these non-human creatures had a part to play in the coming of God's kingdom. His curse of the fig-tree, as part of the last stage of His trip to Jerusalem, indicated that He would use all the powers given to Him as Son of Man to complete His work. As He had said in the parable, when a farmer condemns a fig-tree, the fig tree will be cut down and burned.