The new term started at Caxton on a sombre note, as they remembered a first-year student who had gone missing in Thailand after the Tsunami. There was a two-minute silence in Chapel as Mark Waters came to their minds, a surprisingly able student who showed signs of great academic progress in Theology, but was no longer to be with them.
A few days later, in the middle of the afternoon, Barrie Chambers approached the LibraryAnnexe to speak to Dr Quinton. He had the air of one who was puzzled and slightly angry. The Doctor bade him sit down and explain himself slowly and carefully.
“It’s like this, sir. We were listening to a lecture on part of the Gospels this morning, and the subject of the Fig Tree came up.”
“Which fig tree?”
“The one that Jesus cursed for having no fruit.”
“Ah yes, I’m with you now.”
“The thing that bothers me is the statement about time. It was 1st April, I think, just two days before the final Passover, and of course, as the Gospel account says, ‘it was not the season for figs.’ Why then did Jesus curse a fig tree for not having fruit out of season? The next day the tree was withered and dead. It never had a chance of proving itself later in the year, did it?”
“No. You are quite right. A very good point, Chambers, and I’m pleased you have shared it with me. . . . . Now I suppose you want an answer to your problem. Is that right?”
“Yes, sir. I don’t doubt the Lord’s action, nor do I think He was wrong in what He did, otherwise He would not be the spotless Son of His Father. But as it stands, it gives the impression of unfair judgment.”
“Will you be so kind as to read me the verses in question before we say anything else.”
Barrie turned to his Interlinear at Mark 11, beginning at verse 12.
“The next day, when they were come to Bethany, Jesus was hungry, and seeing a fig tree from afar, covered with leaves, He came if perhaps He might find something on it, but on closer inspection found only leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Jesus said to it, ‘May no one eat fruit from you for ever, [or unto the age]’ And the disciples heard Him. . . . [Verse 20] . . . Passing by early the next morning they saw the fig tree withered from its roots.” I’ve paraphrased it from the Greek, sir.”
“Well done, Chambers. That sounded excellent. . . . Now we must get to grips with the problem you have presented. On the surface it does sound most astonishing that anyone would expect to find fruit on a tree ahead of its natural harvest time. It would be like us expecting to pick apples in March, when the trees are still covered with blossom. . . . Now how shall we handle this conundrum? . . . I have an idea. Is Rosenbaum in your year?”
“Yes, sir. He was with us in the lecture this morning.”
“See if you can find him. I think he may have something useful to share with us.”
Ten minutes passed before the two students appeared and Rosenbaum pulled up a chair next to Chambers. Doc explained to him the reason for requesting his presence, and the Jewish-Christian student nodded in full recognition of the problem, and was ready to explain.
“I suppose the problem arises because in this temperate land fig trees are not often found, and their nature is not so well-known?”
“You tend to find them in old vicarage gardens,” said Doc. “and seldom elsewhere.”
“Right. . . . Out in Israel they grow everywhere, and produce two types of fruit. In the spring we have the baby figs, which the Arabs call Tagsh, about the size of almonds, and they are very sweet to eat. The Bible calls them ‘first-ripe figs.’ I saw them bagged up in the Health Food Store in York only the other day, and advertised as ‘sweet baby figs.’ I bought some. It reminded me of home. . . . With the onset of a strong wind all the baby figs fall off. Then later in the year we get the main crop, much larger fruit.”
“Then why did Mark say it was not the season for figs?” asked Chambers.
“Because it was not the season for the main crop, only the tagsh.”
“But the fig tree was never given the chance to produce its main crop. That’s the source of our problem,” said Chambers.
“One point is missing in your argument. Unless a fig tree bears tagsh, it will not produce the main crop. The one is the guarantee of the other. Because Jesus saw this fig tree barren oftagsh, He knew that there would be no main crop.”
“There’s your answer, Chambers!” said Doc, looking very excited. “No tagsh, no main crop. Simple, isn’t it?”
“Yes . . . . it is simple,” said Chambers, looking as though he were chewing it over in depth. “In that case, the incident was meant to be prophetic.”
“Ah, now we come to the important part of the story,” said Doc. “What can we learn from the miracle?”
“Sadly, my forebears were singularly lacking in faith,” said Rosenbaum. “They had shown no positive response to the teaching of their Messiah, corresponding to the lack of tagsh, and therefore Jesus knew that later they would be barren as a nation. The fig tree was the subject of a parable, in which we are told that it hadn’t produced fruit for three years. The gardener asked for a six-month reprieve, after which it would be cut down. Three and a half years is the time of the Lord’s ministry, and no fruit was forthcoming. So He ordered it to be destroyed. He said, ‘The Kingdom shall be taken from you and given to a nation producing fruit thereof.’ ”
“Thank you, Rosenbaum. You have hit the nail on the head. . . . Now perhaps it’s my turn to add a final comment. Our Lord also said, in His Olivet discourse, that a time would come when the fig tree would become tender and put forth leaves once again. Are we to believe that the dried up old skeleton should suddenly come to life? Your people, Rosenbaum, became a nation once again in 1948, and although the veil still remains on their heart, perhaps the time is near at hand when the Deliverer will return to Zion and remove ungodliness from Jacob. Had you thought of that?”
“Yes, sir. It has been my constant prayer for the Christ-rejecting Jews to look upon the One whom they pierced and mourn for Him. And like you, I have seen the prophetic import of those words about the fig tree blossoming once again. We are living in very exciting times,” said Rosenbaum.
“But the Lord said ‘the fig tree and all the trees.’ Is there some further truth here?” asked Chambers.
“If trees represent nations,” said Doc, “then I would expect there to be a world-wide explosion of faith. Could this be the return of Elijah, and the times of restitution of all things? It would be the focus of all Old Testament prophecy, with the setting up of the Kingdom on earth, shortly before the return of the King Himself. Let’s pray, along with our dear young friend, for the ‘King’s Fountain’ to be opened for Israel’s cleansing. He longs for his people to be saved.”