“The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?’ And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.” (Mt 21: 14-19)
One day after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and after healing “the blind and the lame” at the temple, the Lord curses a tree, that it may “never bear fruit again.” This is why the cursing of the tree is thematized in our church-services today, on Holy and Great Monday.
Why does our merciful Lord “punish” a tree? The Synaxarion-reading at today’s matins offers the following explanation: The God-Man demonstrates that He does, indeed, have the power not only to heal and to give life, but also to punish and to take life. Lest we think, as we see Him being led to the cross, seemingly powerless, that He couldn’t have put a stop to that whole business. But, in His mercy, Christ demonstrates His punishing-power not on us, not on the “fruitless” human beings who were about to lead Him to His death, but on a “tree.” Because it was through a “tree” and its fruit that we were drawn into our sinful and “fruitless” state in the first place, and it was by the “leaves” of a tree that we felt compelled to cover up that “fruitlessness” or nakedness (Gen 3). Now our Lord curses this “tree,” symbolic of the one that led to our demise in the garden, before He proceeds to take on another “tree,” His Cross, which is to become for us a new Tree of Life. He is showing us, in other words, that He is “vanquishing” and also transfiguring, for us, the fearsome instruments of sin, initially used by the devil, that we may fear them no more.
Thank You, Lord, for all that You are doing for us, as You walk toward Your passion throughout this Holy and Great Week. “Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching.”