Syrup of figs is a memory which springs from way back in my childhood, and I was surprised to see today that it is still on sale. I am sure that it was good for me at the time, but I always remember cringing when the words “syrup of figs” were mentioned by my mum or dad. Because of the dread I had for the stuff, it has somehow taken on the status of a punishment. I am sure that it was never administered in this way, but I will speak to my parents of my concerns in this regard, gently reminding them that as we all grow older, tables turn and that I shall perhaps one day assume the role of Medicine Deliverer!
Perhaps it was because of this that it was a long time till I tasted a fig, then I suddenly realised what I had been missing, and that figs and punishment were actually at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Figs were a very important part of the diet among the ancient Greeks, who even had very strict export controls over the trade of figs, and it was a major part of the food of Roman slaves. Some fig trees only produce fruit once a year, some twice, and a few fruit three times a year.
18 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, 19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. (Matthew 21:18-19)
(Holy Bible, New Living Translation)
I hear and read a lot about ‘bearing fruit’, but I must admit that I tend to find it a bit vague, with no real definition, no time-line, no target, no immediate accountability – one of these things that I can think I’m OK, and I can always catch up tomorrow. This passage in Matthew, though, removes all the possible confusion and fuzziness. Here is Jesus looking for something he needs, and not finding it. He then takes drastic action.
Figs were an important food in his day. Today in Mediterranean regions, figs are known as “poor man’s food.” Man can’t live on bread alone, he needs more. There are a lot of people in this world who are poor – I don’t mean physically, but spiritually.
Perhaps Jesus will come to me today, looking for something he needs, some figs that he wants to give to a poor man.
Will he find fruit?