A reflection for our Holy Week lunches held at various churches in town…
“Feel The Passion”
Yesterday Rev. Peter invited us into the story of ancient Jerusalem, to walk alongside Jesus as he entered the city; to see the crowd; to engage our senses as we enter into this Holy Week.
Our themes in past years for this week have been the places Jesus gone and the people who were part of the week. This year we look at the various emotions as the week progresses.
In many of our churches, Sunday was a day of joy as we celebrated with palm branches the entry of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem, the time when everyone was cheering him on as he was expected to come and make things new. To take his place as King of the Jews, removing the Roman occupiers and reestablishing the church.
But how quickly things change. Today we read from Mark 11, just shortly after he enters the city.
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. On the following day… they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.
Have you ever been to a theme park or an exhibition where if you want to get on the rides you need to buy tickets? Tickets are the currency of theme parks. You arrive at the gate and fork over a bunch of cash for tickets which you can then use inside the park. If you run out of tickets, then you’ve got to go back and fork over a bunch more cash if you want to ride more, or you just go home if you’re cheap like me. And don’t get me started over the price of the tickets! Talk about bleeding a guy dry of his hard earned money!
This model of commerce is nothing new. It’s been going on for a very long time. When Jesus went into the temple that evening he saw something very similar. He saw people coming into the temple during the very busy lead up to Passover, traveling from all over the region, near and far.
Once they arrived, at some point they would be expected to come to the temple and make a sacrifice. Since it would not be practical to travel with your livestock for many of the travellers, they had the option to buy their own animal for their sacrifice to God. You could buy goats, doves, pigeons, whatever you required.
But you couldn’t just walk up and buy a goat. It wasn’t that simple. First you had to go and buy the “tickets.” You had to take your money and convert it into the temple currency. Once you bought the temple currency, then you could go and buy the animal for the sacrifice.
The problem was, the conversion rate to the temple currency was outrageous. The money changers were making a very healthy profit.
When Jesus walked into the temple the next morning, he headed right to the money changer’s table. Jesus was not impressed at how these faithful people were being taken advantage of, and he was going to do something about it.
So he flipped the table.
When I was in high school playing basketball, we were having a particularly bad game. We stunk. At half-time, we were in a classroom waiting for coach to come in. It was pretty quiet in there, we knew we were not playing like we should. When coach came, the look on his face told us what we expected. He headed straight for a school desk and he gave it an uppercut and it flipped right over. He was a passionate man, but that is the maddest I had ever seen him, before or after. He let us have it. I honestly don’t remember how the game finished, but I’ll never forget that desk flipping over.
Jesus was that angry. He flipped over the tables of the money changers and the people selling the animals. He refused to let anyone carry anything into the temple.
He stood in the middle of the courtyard and began to teach them. “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
The Son of God, stood his ground. The temple is not a place where people are to be taken advantage of, the house of God is to be a place for the people of God. Notice Jesus said it’s to be a “house of prayer for all the nations.”
The temple is for everyone. The church is to be a place where people can gather to learn about God and to turn their lives around. It’s not a place of profiteering. It’s not a place to take advantage of other people, some of which have traveled a very long way to be part of the festival.
The anger is real. The anger Jesus speaks comes through his deep love for those who come to the temple, those who come seeking God’s forgiveness in their lives, those who come to thank God for what he has done for them. And these people, they want to make money off of this? Grrrr…
Jesus has come to stand against the establishment, so in many ways he has done what people expected him to do when they cheered him on as he entered the city. They expected him to stir things up, to chase out the troublemakers.
But it doesn’t continue as they expect. When Jesus stands in the temple, there are others who are angry as well. The chief priests see what he is doing, they hear what he is teaching, and they don’t like it at all. They too are getting angry. “This. Has. To. Stop!” they are thinking. They begin to really step up their plans for destroying him before he destroys them in the eyes of the people.
So while Jesus is winning the hearts of the people, he has made some very powerful people very, very angry.
Later this week we will see the results of their anger. We will see their wrath come down on him as they call for his death, as they stir up a different crowd into a frenzy which shouts “Crucify him!” Even when he has done nothing wrong but share God’s passionate love for the world.
Anger. It’s an ugly emotion. It causes us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. It causes us to act out in ways we usually later regret.
I have no doubt that when Jesus first walked into the temple, he was seething by what he saw. But he retreated with his disciples for the night. He prayed about what he saw, and he came back and did what he had to do. He knew what was going to happen. He knew what he would do in the temple would push the chief priests over the edge. Yet he did it anyway, because he couldn’t stand to see God’s people taken advantage of any longer. He had to say something. He had to stand up for what is right, even when it would cost him his life.
He would have it no other way.
Let us pray:
Lord God, in the anger of the moment, we hear your passion for your people. We hear your desire to reach those who are on the outside looking in. We hear your love being poured out for those in need. Lord God, stir in us a desire for your people, that as we travel with Jesus Christ on this Holy Week, let us be drawn to you. Let us see the love being poured out on us in what is to happen on Good Friday in his death, but also in the life that comes on Easter morning. Let us feel the emotions of this week, and let us know that in it all, Jesus Christ is doing these things for us. Amen.