Mark 11, Jesus Triumphal Entry, begins, “They drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth phage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives.” “The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf…” Beth phage is Aramaic for, “House of Figs.” The story begins and ends with figs,and Bethany, “the House of Poverty.”
Hebrew has two terms for fig. “Te’enah” is the common term for “fig”; denoting the figs, ripening in August and forming the largest crop. The early figs, appearing in March or April and ripening in June, are “bikkurah.” “The early fig was a great delicacy by the Hebrews.” Jesus comes hoping for the later, bikkurah figs, and finds the Te’enah in its place.”
Mark prefigures Jesus’ death. As Jesus approaches the scene, he sees the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem’s main burial ground.
Another play on words, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches they had cut from the fields.” “Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. Reaching it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for the common figs.” Jesus comes looking for the delicious fruit of the people loving God and expressing itself through peace between man and man. He finds people covering up in fig leaves as we do in corporate America today, doing whatever it takes to keep one’s job and grow in the company. The reward of being bikkurah is poverty but also the kingdom to come. The reward of Te’enah is great wealth.
Jesus is not interested in empty public fanfare; these people will not be present on Good Friday. He wants the fruitful. Our choices are clear, leafy/showy and fruitless, men ready for war with Rome, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, gallant all, or men of peace, pursing the fruit of peace for all men. Which do we choose?