There is a very strange story in Mark 11:
11 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the evening was come, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if perhaps he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
14 And Jesus said to it, No man eat fruit of you hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it.
After this, they go into Jerusalem, and there Jesus “cleanses the Temple” by turning over the tables of the money changers.
19 And when evening was come, he went out of the city.
20 And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
21 And Peter, calling to remembrance, says to him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursed is withered away.
22 And Jesus answering says to them, Have faith in God.
23 For truly I say to you, That whoever shall say to this mountain, Be you removed, and be you cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he says shall happen; he shall have whatever he says.
24 Therefore I say to you, Whatever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them.
As uncomfortable Christians have long noted, this story makes Jesus look like a peevish child having a temper tantrum. No one can expect to find figs on a tree when it is not yet time for it to bear, so cursing it so no one may ever eat figs from it is like a child kicking and damaging a toy that does not behave as he wishes it to.
The Markan Gospel of course adds a little moral to the story about getting whatever one prays for if one truly believes (a result centuries of earnestly believing and praying Christians have thoroughly disproved) but the unsound moral hardly seems to fit the oddity of the event. It is no wonder then, that for centuries believers have sought some allegorical meaning to the tale, whether it be that the Jews were not “bearing fruit” of righteousness, or that the days of Temple worship had ended, or even the very interesting theory (for which there is some support) that the present Gospel of Mark was intended for the consumption of beginners in the faith, who understood things literally, but those more advanced were taught the secret meaning behind these stories of Jesus.
Every year the tale of the cursing of the fig tree is read in Orthodox Churches on the Monday of Holy Week, but it is read in the version found in Matthew, which differs in interesting ways. You may recall that the consensus of scholarship is that the Matthaean Gospel is based upon (today we would say plagiarizes) that called “of Mark.”
First, Matthew removes the embarrassment of Jesus cursing the non-bearing fig at a time when it was not the season for it to bear. It is done by omitting this Markan line:
“…for the time of figs was not yet.“
Next, the writer of “Matthew” makes the withering of the fig more dramatic in his revised version. Instead of having the disciples notice that the fig has withered when they pass by it on the day after the cursing, “Matthew” makes the fig wither as soon as it is cursed, and the disciples watch it happen. In Matthew 21, we find:
19 And when he [Jesus] saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves, and said to it, Let no fruit grow on you henceforward forever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.
20 And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!
The point of all this for us, however, is that there are icons of the cursing of the fig. Here is a Russian example:
And of course there is the 14th century fresco in the Serbian Patriarchate at Pech:
Here is yet another fresco:
The cursing of the fig tree is not at all a common icon subject, which is as one might expect, given the troubling nature of the story.