Today, on Great and Holy Monday, we hear the startling and possibly disturbing account of Jesus cursing the fig tree, which immediately withers. This incident is held up to us in today’s services as a call to bear the fruits of repentance. The fig tree was cursed because it did not bear fruit, and we are likewise exhorted in Matins today,
Mindful of what befell the fig tree, withered for its barrenness, O brethren, let us bear fruits worthy of repentance to Christ, who grants us His great mercy.
We are to be judged according to the fruits that we bear. Yet bearing fruit does not simply occur automatically; we cannot control the fruits that we bear. Bearing fruit is not simply about keeping the rules or fulfilling our religious obligations and then expecting God to reward us for our righteousness. Such a way is the way of the chief priests and elders, who thought they could control God. And Jesus tells them that ‘the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.’
Bearing fruit is something organic, something that occurs from within, a matter of the heart. And while we cannot control it, we can nurture the soil of our hearts so that it becomes conducive to growth. All of our Lenten disciplines and all of the services of Holy Week have been given to us as nourishment. If we want to bear fruit, then we need to make the space for truly entering into our hearts, coming to ourselves, and finding God there.
We need to make the effort, but our own efforts are not enough to produce the fruit of repentance, for this is a gift from God. Therefore, we need to pray as we will do at Great Compline tomorrow,
O God, the husbandman of all good trees and fruit, make fruitful my barren mind in Your compassion.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 21:18-43:
At that time, Jesus was returning to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. ” And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men? ” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.
“Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”