‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 23. Shock
Mk 11:15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.
And so: It’s a new day. Every day with the Master is a new day; you never know what is coming next. Yesterday was excitement as we followed him into Jerusalem as he rode on a donkey and the crowds welcomed him and called him king. We went into the temple, looked around and left. Some days we travel, some days we stay in one place, some days we see no one, some days we see many people. It seems, here outside Jerusalem, it’s going to be a people day, staying here in Bethany waiting for Passover to come. In Jerusalem yesterday it was a people day, crowds shouting in the morning and then gradually in the confines of the city it was quieter. The master was talking quietly with us when Andrew came up – Andrew tells that Philip had had some Greek-Jews visiting for the Passover who had stopped him and asked if it would be all right to talk with the Master (Jn 12:20-22). People. But then we left the city and walked back to Bethany where we stayed overnight, and so here it is, Monday, a new day. It looks like the Master is getting ready to go back into Jerusalem.
Funny thing happened on the way back in: he stopped by a fig tree but because it didn’t have any fruit on it, he cursed it and it died. (Mk 11:12-14, 20,21) Arriving in Jerusalem it was clear he was going back to the temple and when he entered he caused a riot by turning over the tables of the money-changers and the sellers of doves for sacrifice and bellowed at them all, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.” (Mk 11:17) His anger was great and the traders just protested feebly but it was clear the temple authorities were furious. I don’t know what got into the Master. I mean he saw it all yesterday but didn’t do anything about it, and he’s seen it before. In fact, as I come to think about it, he did the same thing three years ago when he was starting his ministry (Jn 2:13-17), but it seems he’s being purposely provocative, almost like he’s working on an agenda to upset the authorities, what with coming in with the crowds yesterday and now this! He sometimes says or does thing that are hard to understand. I remember at that first time, the Jews got really upset and challenged him and demanded he reveal his authority for doing it by performing a sign (Jn 2:18) and all he said was, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (Jn 2:19) I tell you that had them confused – me to if I’m honest. I mean what did that mean? I don’t know what this present action is going to do. The people obviously love him and they seem to be rejoicing in him upsetting this mockery of religion, but it’s equally obvious the authorities are getting more and more upset.
Following: “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mk 11:18) “When evening came, Jesus and his disciples] went out of the city.” (Mk 11:19)
What if? To try and get into what is going on here, I want to ponder for a moment or two on what the disciples must have been thinking about all that was happening. They had surely been to Passover with Jesus on previous years and so there would have been a certain familiarity about going up to Jerusalem for this Feast. However it was the events we have been following which made it different. What if, back in Bethany, early in the morning, Jesus had got the twelve together and, in modern language, said, “Guys, I’m thinking of going into town today to clear out the temple.” Some furrowed brows, some lightening of spirits.
Disciple Responses? I have a feeling (and this is only speculation remember) that somehow Peter would have felt protective of Jesus and would not think it was a smart idea. Perhaps he would remember back to when he had challenged Jesus over his death talk (Mt 16:21-23). Maybe that challenge back then had not be so much that it just won’t happen as more I won’t let it happen to you. Anything now that puts Jesus under threat, he’s going to be against. James and John? Maybe they were still smarting a bit at having been rebuked by Jesus when they suggested calling down fire on the Samaritans who had rejected Jesus (Lk 9:52-55) and had the feeling now, “Oh, come on Lord, one law for you, another for us. We can’t do something violent but you can?” Maybe there was Judas, whose mind was confused, possibly wanting Jesus to reveal himself as king, and was ready to let him provoke such a declaration, or provoke it himself? Or, of course, there was the one of the twelve simply known as ‘Simon the zealot’ (Mt 10:4) whose background would have been as a member of the party simply known as the Zealots, who were actively against Roman rule; perhaps he is thinking, “Awesome, Master, you’ve come round to my way of thinking. Go for it. But hold on that’s against the Jews not the Romans. What’s the point?”
And Us? The thing is, we all come to the crises of life with different agendas formulated by different backgrounds and different experiences. For us as Christians we come to these things with different understanding of Scripture. Some of us hold the “turn the other cheek,” attitude to the wrongs of the world – let them do their thing and God will sort it, all we’ve got to do is hold a right attitude – while others hold the ‘salt attitude’ – we’re to be changing the world, purifying it and sometimes that means we demonstrate, protest and so on. It is never an easy path to walk. It is perhaps easy to say, “Just listen to God and only do what He says,” which is the path I would prefer to take, but that can be a cop-out for doing nothing, it is not always easy to glean the will of God. As I had to text a friend the other day who was worrying about the part they had to play in the midst of the immense complexities of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic, “The complexities of the present often mean that we can only pray and then act and just trust in Him that He will be there for us in it, whatever the outcome.” If we get it wrong then we may have to appeal for forgiveness through the Cross, if we get it wrong we may upset other people, but if we get it right, whatever the outcome, we will have a sense that somehow we have managed to conform to the will of God.
Back to Jesus: The fact is Jesus said he always did what he did, following the Father’s guidance. He knew the big picture that the Godhead had agreed upon before the foundation of the world, that he would come, reveal the Father and then die for the sins of the world. How that death would be procured – through the sinful acts of mankind against the perfect Son of God – starts being seen as the events we have been following are rolled out. It involved, on Jesus’ part, doing good, teaching the people, healing the sick and raising the dead AND correcting wrongs – the wrong use of the Temple. All those things collectively raised the ire of sinful mankind in its many forms, to eventually take him and kill him. Thus they will, without realizing it, offer the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and progress the will of God to eventually bring glory to the Father and reconciliation of those who would hear and respond. Today’s events have been part of that. Much to think about, but at the end of it, realize we are each part of the plans and purposes of God that are being worked out this very day. We may not understand them but our part is to listen, respond, act and trust, as imperfect as we sometimes feel that is. Be blessed in this day. Amen.