By Carlos Quintanilla & John Quintanilla

Why did Jesus use the sycamine tree to deliver his parable?

He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard see, you would say to this mulberry (KJV uses sycamine) tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.”  - Luke 17:1-6 NIV

Jesus is teaching a lesson and that is why he addresses them as “His disciples.” He shares that it is inevitable that daily offenses will attack us to try and make us stumble from the path of the straight and narrow. The Greek word for offense is “skandalon.” It is where we get words like “scandal.” It is the literal moving part of a bait trap. 

So we should be cautious of these offenses, as they are laid out to ensnare us daily; offenses from our wife who may always to have the last word, from our kids who may not appreciate our efforts for them, from our co-workers who may be jealous of the favor in your life. Those traps show up in the car when that rude driver cuts us off and then slows down, or that waiter treats us like a second-class citizen. The offenses will come and how we engage them will determine our character - or lack thereof.

Jesus then addresses those that commit offenses, where he mentions that it would be better to be drowned than to be an offender. We should not retaliate or seek to be redeemed from an offense; these are traps set to steal our freedom and stunt our spiritual growth. If someone has hurt you, forgive them and if you have offended anyone offer them forgiveness even when they do not ask for it. This is more about self-control and self-reflection and not so much a literal drowning. 

Then in verse 5, the apostles yell “Increase our faith.” Thus, we see the apostles asking for enlightenment and increased faith even though they have mastered their training.Prayer and seeking God before anything else is the key for us to fulfill our purpose, and Jesus challenges the apostles’ level of faith by stating that if they had even the smallest level of faith they could uproot a sycamine tree and tell it to plant itself in the sea.

What is the significance of Jesus referring to a sycamine tree?

1. Deep Roots  

The sycamine tree was a popular tree in that region and it grew rather tall, so for these reasons it had a deep and wide root system. The roots grew very deep in order to reach the water beneath the desert terrain which made removing the tree difficult. Unfortunately, cutting down to the stump would not be enough; you had to dig each main root out and remove it from the source. 

This is much like harboring unforgiveness, which can be deeply rooted in our souls and develop large trees of bitterness that are not easily removed unless dug up and dealt with one experience at a time. Therefore, bitterness and unforgiveness will plant their roots deep into our soul and restrict the Holy Spirit from flourishing in us. 

2.  The Materials it Created 

The speed and popularity of the sycamine tree in that region made it accessible for materials, specifically for building caskets and coffins. The symbolism of how the wood from the tree is used to develop products of death and burial signifies how anchoring bitterness in our soul can eventually murder and bury our spiritual lives along with the things we love, such as ministry, our marriage, and relationships.

3. Bitter Fruit 

The fruit of the sycamine tree was very bitter and it was seen as the choice fruit for the impoverished people because of how common it was. The fruit was so bitter that in order to eat it you had to eat one small bite at a time, so it often took a person all day to eat one piece of fruit from the sycamine tree. 

That’s similar to people who do not deal with unforgiveness. They take a bite of the offense, wallow and ponder on it, digest it, and repeat the cycle constantly. That makes the person’s bitterness develop more and more with each bite and inevitably keeps the person poor in spirit and in wealth. 

4.  Unnaturally Pollinated 

The sycamine tree was unnaturally pollinated because the figs on the tree would attract wasps that would “sting” the fruit from one tree and then contaminate the bark of another tree. This transaction creates two outcomes: one, we get “stung” by offenses and allow them to populate other trees of bitterness in our hearts; and two, when bitterness has consumed who we are, we share that bitterness with someone else and “sting” them, pollinating a tree of bitterness within them. Essentially, bitterness and unforgiveness will suck the life out of us and contaminate those around us. 

In summary, unforgiveness and bitterness are a result of deep-rooted offenses that will suffocate the development of our spiritual life. With this clarity regarding Luke 17:1-6, our next step is to pray and ask God for a revelation of offenses that we are holding on to, or those we have committed so we can seek out those we have offended to verbally ask for forgiveness and release them by granting them forgiveness.

John Quintanilla is founder of the Leaders Activating More Believers by the Spirit (LAMBS Project), which focuses on providing fund raising, spiritual development, and business strategies for Jesus Christ centered ministries. He is currently the President of The K.I.N.G. Movement in San Antonio and the President of the Volunteer Council for Texas Youth in San Antonio. John is passionate about Latino social issues as they relate to faith in Jesus Christ and restoring broken families through the power of the Holy Spirit. For info about K.I.N.G. San Antonio visit their page on SynergyScape 

Carlos Quintanilla is the vice-president for the K.I.N.G. San Antonio Chapter.  Carlos is married with a daughter and a diesel mechanic by occupation. Carlos has a passion to support pastors and help them face the pressures that come with leading the church.