The sycamine of Palestine actually belongs to the fig tree family and has nothing to do with the North American sycamore. The prophet Amos identified himself as a keeper "of sycamine-fig trees". Amos (7:14) And Zacchaeous climbed a sycamine to see Jesus. Lk (19:1)
The sycamore trees found in Palestine had 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's roots grew 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. The sycamine tree grew very quickly and grew best where little rain fell and water was sparse. In other words, this tree was very difficult to kill.
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 delicious as a mulberry fig. But when a person tasted the fruit of 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 ate 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 ate a entire piece of this fruit at one time; it was just too tart to eat at one sitting.
The meaning of the sycamine tree is directly related to forgiveness. Forgiving once is already a challenge for most people. But to forgive someone seven times in one day almost sounds impossible. It must have sounded extremely hard when the disciples heard it because they said, "Lord, increase our faith” Lk (17:5) In other words, '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'!
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.
Just as the sycamine tree grows very quickly, so does bitterness and unforgiveness. The sycamine tree grows best where little rain fell and water is sparse. Isn’t this just like bitterness and unforgiveness? These negative emotions flourish where spiritually dry conditions exist. The word of God can be likened to rain. A soul that has rejected God's words can be liken to the deep roots of sycamine in dry places. Such a person will not be quick to forgive.
Jesus lets us know that like the sycamine fruit, the fruit of bitterness and unforgiveness is bitter, and tart. 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. 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 rethink 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.
And just as the poor ate the sycamine fruit, those who sit around and constantly meditate on every wrong that has ever been done to them are poor in grace.
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! I’ll never let them get close enough to sting me again!” The wasp of bitterness got to them!
Jesus said that in order to rid this sycamine 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. As the plant grows it reaches 10 to 15 feet in height. In the fall its branches have become rigid and the plant becomes a shelter for birds of many kinds. Jesus was telling His disciples that a great amount of faith is not needed to deal with bitterness and unforgiveness.
Lk 17:3 Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him;
17:4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
17:5 The Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
17:6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.