Why Jesus Compared Unforgiveness To the Sycamine Tree
…If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. — Luke 17:6
In Luke 17:1-6, Jesus taught His disciples about bitterness and unforgiveness and about how to remove these evil forces from one’s life. As an illustration, Jesus likened these forces to the sycamine tree that was so well known in that part of the world. The word “sycamine” comes from the Greek word sukaminos, and it is the Greek word that refers to a tree that grew throughout the Middle East.
When you understand everything that is connected to the sycamine tree, you’ll know exactly why Jesus chose to use this tree as an example of bitterness and unforgiveness in Luke 17:6. In that verse, Jesus told His disciples, “…If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” Notice that Jesus said, “…Ye might say unto this sycamine tree.…” The word “this” indicates that Jesus was pointing out something very specific to them.
Keep in mind that Jesus was speaking of getting rid of bitterness and unforgiveness. In Luke 17:3, He told the disciples that they needed to forgive those who sinned against them. He then took it to the maximum in Luke 17:4 by saying that even if a brother does something wrong seven times in one day and is each time truly repentant, they were to keep on forgiving that offending brother.
Forgiving once is already a challenge for most people. But to forgive someone seven times in one day almost sounds impossible to many folks. It must have sounded preposterous to the disciples as well, for they said, “…Lord, Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). This statement was the equivalent of their saying, “Lord, we don’t know if we have enough faith to forgive so many times in one day. You’ll have to increase our faith if we’re going to do this seven times in one day!”
That is when Jesus began to teach His disciples about speaking to bitterness and unforgiveness. He said, “…If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree.…” When Jesus used the word “this,” it was the equivalent of Jesus’ telling them, “Bitterness and unforgiveness are just like the sycamine tree — and if you really want to be free of these attitudes, you can speak to this menacing growth in your life and command it to be planted in the sea!”
Before we can understand what Jesus taught about getting rid of bitterness and unforgiveness, we first need to see why He used the sycamine tree to illustrate these destructive forces. Was there a particular reason why He didn’t use an oak tree, an apple tree, or a palm tree in this illustration? Why did He use the sycamine tree to symbolize the detrimental effects of bitterness and unforgiveness in a person’s life?
As you look at the characteristics of the sycamine tree listed below, I believe you will comprehend why Jesus used this particular tree in this context.
- The sycamine tree had a very large and deep root structure.
The sycamine tree was known to have one of the deepest root structures of all trees in the Middle East. It was a vigorous and robust tree that grew to a height of thirty feet or more. Because its roots went down so deep into the earth, it was very difficult to kill. Hot weather and blistering temperatures had little effect on this tree because it was tapped into a water source down deep under the earth. Even cutting it to its base would not guarantee its death because its roots, hidden deep under the ground, would draw from underground sources of water, enabling it to keep resurfacing again and again. In other words, this tree was very difficult to eradicate.
No wonder Jesus used this tree as an example of bitterness and unforgiveness! Like the sycamine tree, bitterness and unforgiveness must be dealt with clear to the roots, or they will keep springing up again and again. The roots of bitterness and unforgiveness go down deep into the human soul, fed by any offense that lies hidden in the soil of the heart. That hidden source of offense will cause these evil forces to resurface in a person’s life over and over again. It will take a serious decision for that person to rip those roots of bitterness and offense out of his heart once and for all so they can’t grow back in the future.
- The sycamine tree’s wood was the preferred wood for building caskets.
In Egypt and the Middle East, the sycamine tree was considered to be the preferred wood for building caskets and coffins. It grew quickly and in nearly any environment, making it accessible in many different places. It also grew best in dry conditions — the kind of conditions for which the Middle East is famous. These are two reasons sycamine wood was used in so many places for building caskets and coffins.
Again, we can see why this illustration of the sycamine tree is so ideal for portraying bitterness and unforgiveness. Just as the sycamine tree grew very quickly, so does bitterness and unforgiveness. In fact, it doesn’t take too long at all for these evil forces to get out of control and start taking over the whole place! When these fast-growing and ugly attitudes are allowed to grow freely, they not only spoil the condition of your own heart, but they ruin your relationships with other people.
Also, just as the sycamine tree grew easily in every environment, so does bitterness. It doesn’t matter where people are from, where they live, what kind of cultural background they grew up in, or what level of society they belong to — bitterness and unforgiveness grow in human hearts everywhere, for they are universal in their scope of evil influence.
The sycamine tree grew best where little rain fell and water was sparse. Isn’t this just like bitterness and unforgiveness? These negative attitudes flourish where spiritually dry conditions exist. You can almost count on finding bitterness and unforgiveness growing and blossoming where there is no repentance, no joy, and no fresh rain of the Spirit.
And don’t forget that sycamine wood was the preferred wood for building caskets and coffins. What a powerful message this is! It tells us that bitterness and unforgiveness are deadly. Harboring bitterness will spiritually bury you more quickly than anything else! These attitudes are the materials that Satan uses to put you six feet underground!
Let me stress this point to you because it’s so important: If you permit bitterness and unforgiveness to grow in your life, it won’t be long until these attitudes have killed your joy, stolen your peace, and canceled out your spiritual life!
- The sycamine tree produced a fig that was very bitter to eat.
The sycamine tree and the mulberry tree were very similar in appearance; the two trees even produced a fruit that looked identical. However, the fruit of the sycamine tree was extremely bitter. Its fruit looked just as luscious and delicious as a mulberry fig. But when a person tasted the sycamine fig, he discovered that it was horribly bitter.
Mulberry figs were delicious and therefore expensive. Because of the cost of this fruit, it was primarily eaten by wealthier people. But the sycamine fig was cheap and therefore affordable to poorer people. Because the poor couldn’t afford the luscious mulberry fig, they munched on the sycamine fig as a substitute.
However, the sycamine fig was so bitter that it couldn’t be eaten whole. In order to consume an entire sycamine fig, the eater had to nibble on it a little bit at a time. After a pause, the eater would return to nibble on it again, but he could never devour an entire piece of this fruit at one time; it was just too tart and pungent to eat at one sitting.
Jesus lets us know that like the sycamine fruit, the fruit of bitterness and unforgiveness is bitter, tart, and pungent. Like the fig, most people who are bitter and filled with unforgiveness chew on their feelings for a long time. They nibble on bitterness for a while; then they pause to digest what they’ve eaten. After they have reflected deeply on their offense, they return to the memory table to start nibbling on bitterness again — taking one little bite, then another little bite, then another. As they continue to think and meditate on their offense, they internalize their bitter feelings toward those who have offended them. In the end, their perpetual nibbling on the poisonous fruit of bitterness makes them bitter, sour people themselves.
And just as the primary consumers of the sycamine fruit were poor people, those who sit around and constantly meditate on every wrong that has ever been done to them are usually bound up with all kinds of poverty. Their bitter attitude not only makes them spiritually poor, but they are also frequently defeated, depressed, sick, and financially poor as well.
- The sycamine tree was pollinated only by wasps.
It is very interesting to note that the sycamine tree was not naturally pollinated. The pollination process was only initiated when a wasp stuck its stinger right into the heart of the fruit. Thus, the tree and its fruit had to be “stung” in order to be reproduced.
Think of how many times you have heard a bitter person say: “I’ve been stung by that person once, but I’m not going to be stung again! What he did hurt me so badly that I’ll never let him get close enough to sting me again!” It is likely that people who make such a statement have been “stung” by a situation that the devil especially devised to pollinate their hearts and souls with bitterness and unforgiveness. When a person talks like this, you can know for sure that the wasp of bitterness got to them!
Jesus said that in order to rid this nuisance from one’s life, a person must have faith the size of “a grain of mustard seed.” The word “grain” is the Greek word kokkos. It describes a seed, a grain, or a very small kernel. Jesus uses the example of a “mustard” seed in this example. The word “mustard” is the Greek word sinapi, which refers to the small mustard plant that grows from a tiny, miniscule seed.
By using this word, Jesus was telling His disciples that a great amount of faith is not needed to deal with bitterness and unforgiveness. Any person who has even a tiny measure of faith can speak to bitterness and unforgiveness and command them to leave — if that is really the desire of his heart.
So what is your desire today, friend? Do you genuinely wish to be free from the bitterness, unforgiveness, and offense that has festered in your soul for so long? Are you ready to rip those destructive roots clear out of your heart so they won’t be able to resurface in your life again? Are you tired of those detrimental attitudes killing your joy, stealing your peace, and nullifying your spiritual life? If so, be sure to read tomorrow’s Sparkling Gem so you can find out exactly how to permanently eradicate these attitudes from your life!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, thank You for speaking to my heart about getting rid of bitterness, unforgiveness, and offense. I know from experience that these attitudes are a killer to my spiritual life. When I am filled with bitterness and unforgiveness, I become a sour hostage to my memories. When I am consumed with offense, I lose my joy and peace and my relationships with other people are horribly affected. I thank You for giving me all the faith I need to deal with this issue, Lord. Today I am asking You to help me start the process of ripping those foul roots out of the soil of my heart and soul.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I genuinely wish to be set free from bitterness, unforgiveness, and offense. I am weary of the way these poisonous roots have produced their deadly fruit in my life for so long. I am ready to do whatever is required to rip those roots clear out of my heart so they won’t be able to resurface in my life again. By the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority God has given me, I repent of these detrimental attitudes that have been killing my joy, stealing my peace, and nullifying my spiritual life. By faith I am walking free from these enemies of my soul.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Have you been harboring ill feelings deep inside your soul that are now beginning to affect your spiritual life? Have you been feeling “dead” on the inside as a result of your tight hold on bitterness, unforgiveness, and offense?
2. Who is that person or group of people against whom you have been harboring these feelings? Did those who offended you do anything to you that you haven’t been guilty of doing to someone else in the past?
3. Has it helped you to hold on so tightly to these feelings of unforgiveness? Has bitterness improved the quality of your life? Have your relationships become richer and fuller as a result of your clinging to offense? What fruit has been produced in your life because you’ve allowed these negative attitudes to fester and grow?