Who would Jesus fire?

What happens when a business magazine observes Jesus at work

If Jesus was your boss, would he fire you? Forbes’ contributor William Vanderbloemen reckons Jesus would let you go – if you underperformed, as a biblical tree did.

With wit and corporate-speak, Vanderbloemen plucks management lessons from Jesus’ notable interaction with a fig tree, as recorded in the Gospels of Mark (11:12-25) and Matthew (21:18-22).

“Jesus needed to see productivity … So he fired the fig tree.” – William Vanderbloemen

“If you’re a fig tree, you have one job: produce figs. That’s it,” explains Vanderbloemen, founder of a team-building business for churches and author of Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace. “The job description for a fig tree doesn’t include producing other fruits. It’s not a dual reporting role.

“And when arguably the nicest guy in history came along and needed to see productivity, it wasn’t there. So he fired the fig tree.”

While the gospels don’t record Jesus going all Donald Trump from The Apprentice on the fig tree outside Jerusalem, he does pronounce the end of its working life. As Mark 12:14 describes: “Then Jesus said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.

Initally, I rushed to write off Vanderbloemen’s click-bait use of this unusual exchange between Jesus and a fruit tree. But I found it hard to argue with some of the management lessons he gleans.

“Get your team clear on their job” and “measure productivity” are two lessons Vanderbloemen believes we can learn from tough but fair boss Jesus. Vanderbloemen gives the thumbs up to Jesus being crystal clear about what he expected of the fig tree (to produce figs) and fairly assessing whether it was doing that job.

Jesus is much more than a boss …

I’m a fan of people finding different ways to apply the amazing, often astounding life lessons dished up by Jesus. But it didn’t take me too long to work out why Vanderbloemen’s case study left me unsatisfied.

Like most people, Jesus is more than a guy who did one thing. Vanderbloemen presents Jesus as if he was “the nicest guy in history” who only got fired up about firing fruit. But distilling Jesus down to that one exchange loses the wood for the fig tree. Jesus is much more than a boss, and much more than an example of how “firing someone isn’t a question of whether or not you are nice.”

Vanderbloemen seems uninterested in why the biographers of Jesus’s life would bother to include his showdown with the fig tree, let alone what happens around it – and any deeper meaning it might have.

There’s no reference in Vanderbloemen’s notable management article about Jesus being on his resolute way to the death he knew he soon would face in Jerusalem. No reference, either, to the importance of Jesus’s cursing the fig tree amid stoushes in the Temple with Jewish leaders about the emptiness of their religious pomp and ceremony.

Vanderbloemen also ignores one of the most difficult aspects of the fig tree fracas. Mark’s Gospel makes the point that figs weren’t in season. So, um, why does Jesus get so worked up? Both Gospels note that the fig tree had leaves on it – and fruit on fig trees usually arrives before the leaves. Fig trees can produce several crops of fruit each year, making Jesus’s expectation of fruit out of season not too unreasonable.

An unfruitful fig tree symbolised … the spiritually dead people of God.

But there’s still more to all this than Vanderbloemen suggests. He doesn’t register the significance of the fig tree in Holy Scriptures, particularly its use as a symbol of the people of God (the nation of Israel). A bountiful fig tree symbolised the prosperous, blessed people of God who were living life as God called them. An unfruitful fig tree symbolised the opposite – a spiritually dead people of God.

More than a how-to guide for firing someone with grace and fairness, Jesus’s termination of the fig tree’s employment is like everything Jesus did. It’s a pointer to the core of why Jesus came – to delve beneath the surface of us all. Jesus doesn’t want to call us out on poor productivity or not meeting KPIs. He wants us to examine our deepest motives, give our lives over to his leadership and grasp that glorious fruitfulness will flow from sticking with Jesus (see John 15:1-8).

Plus, Jesus isn’t just the guy who fired a fig tree. His job description involves everything from being the good shepherd to King, the bread of life to prophet and saviour. Try weighing up all of those aspects of Jesus, when you’re applying his management style to your workplace.

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