(Interestingly, while the Gospels present Jesus as being able to read the mind of the woman at the well about her past life (John 4: 16 – 19), the present thoughts of Pharisees (Matt. 12: 25), and even predicting what Peter will do and say at his arrest (Luke 22: 34), he just can’t seem to use all his God given mental ability to locate a single damn fig . . . . where’s God when you need Him!)
So what does this righteous and sinless Son of God do? He throws a temper tantrum just like some bratty kid who can’t get what he wants. Now this God Incarnate summons his divine supernatural power to attack and kill a fig tree (Mark 11:14 & 20; = Matthew 21:9) which was just doing what God created it to do (Luke 21: 29 – 30). (1)
Since the Gospels are redactions (The Synoptic Tradition), the Gospel of Luke saves the day by reworking Jesus' actions from an embarrassment into a parable of which the early Christians would be proud of. In Luke (13:6-9) Jesus’ immature rant is completely rewritten and then, ironically, placed on the lips of Jesus so you know this is going to be great damage control:
And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. “And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ “And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
Thus, the irrational action taken by Jesus in killing the fig tree has now been totally transformed into a parable about a patient and wisdom-aged farmer (every godly trait Jesus does not have in Mark and Matthew’s Gospels) who goes three times to the fig tree wanting its fruit only to find none.
Finally, the farmer directs his vine-dresser to “Cut it down and reuse the ground.” However, the vine-dresser pleads with the farmer not to be so impatient, but just give the fig tree one more chance by patiently waiting another year to which the farmer agrees to do.
The author of Luke /Acts has taken an embarrassing story about Jesus from the other two Synoptic Gospels in which an out-of-control (but sinless Jesus . . . sure! ) action is given a total make over being reworked into a parable of man guided with intelligent wisdom.
Finally, by putting this reworked temper rant on the lips of Jesus as a parable, Luke has saved Jesus’ ass and has helped transform him into the dignified and divine savior the Church expected!
(The theme for this post is drawn from an article by Robert M. Grant (Carl Darling Buck Professor Emeritus of Humanities and of New Testament and Early Christianity; University of Chicago)
Grant’s view is supported by Kurt Aland, Synopsis of the Four Gospels (United Bible Societies, 1972). See The Cursing of the Fig Tree p. 238.
1. The action of Jesus in both Mark and Matthew are on the same immature level as the spoiled child of Jesus in the Childhood Gospel of Thomas.