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man, who had hitherto been tied to one place, now used aright his restored eyesight; for he used it to follow Jesus in the way, and this with the free outbreaks of a thankful heart, himself “glorifying God' (Luke xiii. 13; xvii. 15), and being the occasion also that • all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God' as well (Matt. ix. 8 ; Luke xiii. 17; Acts iii. 8-10).
31. THE CURSING OF THE BARREN FIG-TREE.
Matt. xxi. 17–22; Mark xi. 12-14, 20–24.
HIS miracle was wrought upon the Monday of the week
of Passion. On the Sunday of Palms our blessed Lord had made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in the evening, -since even now his hour, though close at hand, was not altogether come, -He retired from the snares and perils of the city to the safer Bethany, to the house, probably, of those sisters whom He had so lately made rich with a restored brother, and there passed the night. On the Monday morning, as He was returning from Bethany to his ministry in the city very early, indeed before sunrise, the word against the fig-tree was spoken. That same evening He with his disciples went back to Bethany to lodge there, but probably at so late an hour that the darkness prevented these from marking the effects which had followed upon that word. It was not till the morning of Tuesday that they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots. Such is the exact order of events, in the telling of which St. Mark shows himself a more accurate observer of times than the first Evangelist ;- not, indeed, that this gives him any superiority: our advantage is that we have both records :-St. Matthew's, who, more concerned for the inner idea, hastened on to that, omitting circumstances which came between, that he might present the whole event as one, at a single glance, in a single picture, without the historical perspective,—of which he at no
time takes any especial note, his gifts and his aim being different ;-and also St. Mark's, who was concerned likewise for the picturesque setting forth of the truth in its external details, as it was linked with tirnes and with places, as it gradually unfolded itself before the eyes of men.
. But while such differences as these are easily set at one, and they who magnify them into difficulties are the true Pharisees of history, straining at gnats and swallowing camels, there are other and undoubted difficulties in this narrative, such as we are bound not to evade, but to meet. Take the facts as recorded by St. Matthew : Now in the morning, as He returned into the city, He hungered. And when He saw a fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said to it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig-tree withered away.' We first ask ourselves here, how should our Lord, knowing, as by his divine power He must, that there was no fruit upon that tree, have gone to seek it there, made to his disciples as though He had expected to find it? Was this consistent with a perfect sincerity and truth? Slight as would have been the deceit, yet, if it was such, it would trouble the clearness of our image of Him, whom we conceive as the absolute Lord of truth. It is again perplexing, that He should have treated the tree as a moral agent, punishing it as though unfruitfulness had been any guilt upon its part. This, in itself perplexing, becomes infinitely more so through a notice of St. Mark's; which indeed the order of the natural year would of itself have suggested, namely, that the time of figs was not yet:' so that at the time when they could not reasonably be expected, He sought, and was displeased at failing to find, them. For, whatever the undermeaning might have been in treating the tree as a moral agent, and granting such treatment to have been entirely justified, yet all seems again lost and obscured,
1 Lükov xetuwvos Snreiv, marvopivov, Marcus Antoninus, xi. 33.
if the tree could not have been otherwise than without fruit at such a time. For the symbol must needs be carried through; if by a figure we attribute guilt to the tree for not having fruit, we must be consistent, and show that it might have had such, that there was no justifying reason why it should have had none.
Upon the first point, that the Lord approached the tree, appearing to expect fruit upon it, and yet knowing that He should find none, deceiving thereby those who were with Him, who no doubt believed that what He professed to look for, He expected to find, it is sufficient to observe that a similar charge might be made against all figurative teaching, whether by word or by deed : for in all such there is a worshipping of truth in the spirit and not in the letter; often a forsaking of it in the letter, for the better honouring and establishing of it in the spirit. A parable is told as true; and though the facts are feigned, it is true, because of the moral or spiritual truth which sustains the outward fabric of the story; true, because it is the shrine of truth, and because the truth which it enshrines looks through and through it. Even so a symbolic action is done as real, as professing to mean something; and yet, although not meaning the thing which it professes to mean, is no deception, since it means something infinitely higher and deeper, of which the lower action is a type, and in which that lower is lost; transfigured and transformed by the higher, whereof it is made the vehicle. What was it, for instance, here, if Christ did not intend really to look for fruit on that tree, being aware that it had none ? yet He did intend to show how it would fare with a man or with a nation, when God came looking from it for the fruits of righteousness, and found nothing but the abundant leaves of a boastful yet empty profession.'
1 Augustine (Quæst. Evang. ii. 51): Non enim omne quod fingimus mendacium est: sed quando id fingimus, quod nihil significat, tunc est mendacium. Cum autem fictio nostra refertur ad aliquam significationem, non est mendacium, sed aliqua figura veritatis. Alioquin omnia quæ a
But how, it is asked, shall we justify his putting forth his anger on a tree? Now the real offence which is here taken, at least by many, is that He should have put forth his anger at all; that God should ever show Himself as a punishing God; that there should be any such thing as the wrath of the Lamb,' as the having to give account of advantages, as a day of doom. But seeing that such things are, how needful that men should not forget it : yet they might have forgot it, as far as the teaching of the miracles went, but for this oneall the others being miracles of help and of healing. And even the severity of this, with what mercy was it tempered! Christ did not, like Moses and Elijah, make the assertion of God's holiness and his hatred of evil at the expense of the lives of many men, but only at the cost of a single unfeeling tree. His miracles of mercy. were numberless, and on men; his miracle of judgment was but one, and on a tree.'
But then, say some, it was unjust to deal thus with a tree at all, which, being incapable of good or of evil, was as little
sapientibus et sanctis viris, vel etiam ab ipso Domino figurate dicta sunt, mendacia deputabuntur, quia secundum usitatum intellectum non subsistit veritas talibus dictis. . . . Sicut autem dicta, ita etiam facta finguntur sine mendacio ad aliquam rem significandam; unde est etiam illud Domini quod in fici arbore quæsivit fructum eo tempore, quo illa poma nondum essent. Non enim dubium est illam inquisitionem non fuisse veram ; quivis enim hominum sciret, si non divinitate, vel tempore, poma illam arborem non habere. Fictio igitur quæ ad aliquam veritatem refertur, figura est ; quæ non refertur, mendacium est. Cf. Serm. lxxxix. 4-6: Quærit intelligentem, non facit errantem.
· Hilary (Comm. in Matt. in loc.): In eo quidem bonitatis Dominicæ argumentum reperiemus. Nam ubi ofterre voluit procuratæ a se salutis, exemplum, virtutis suæ potestatem in humanis corporibus exercuit: spem futurorum et animæ salutem curis præsentium ægritudinum commendans : . . . nunc vero, ubi in contumaces formam severitatis constituebat, futuri speciem damno arboris indicavit, ut infidelitatis periculum, sine detrimento eorum in quorum redemptionem venerat, doceretur. Thus, too, Grotius: Clementissimus Dominus, quum innumeris miraculis sua in nos æterna beneficia figurâsset, severitatem judicii, quod infrugiferos homines manet, uno duntaxat signo, idque non in homine, sed in non sensurâ arbore, adumbravit; ut certi essemus bonorum operum sterilitatem gratiæ fecundantis ademptione puniri. Theophylact brings out in the same way the φιλανθρωπία of this miracle: ξηραίνει ούν το δένδρον, ίνα σωφρονίσυ ανθρώπους.