March 15, 2020: Conflict and Crisis
Third Sunday in Lent
Tuesday: Conflict and Crisis
Mark 11:27-33, Mark 12:35-44
We are now to Tuesday, day three of the last week in Jesus’ life. We actually touched on the beginning of this day last week when we talked about Jesus’ disciples finding the fig tree that he had cursed, shriveled. Moving past this tree they return to the temple. In Mark, the events of Tuesday are more fully recorded than any other day of this week. The account of this day covers parts of three chapters for a total of 115 verses. Thursday has 60 verses and Friday just 47. So there is more about Tuesday than these two other pivotal days combined.
Obviously, Mark wants to make a statement about the reasons for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion by focusing on the events of today. They are marked by controversies between Jesus and the authorities, and end with a prediction of the temple’s destruction. By the close of the day, Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion are almost inevitable. I want to first take us on a quick journey through the verbal exchanges of Tuesday before we begin to ask, “What does this say to me today?”
Jesus arrives at the temple grounds and the authorities and their associates are waiting, ready to challenge him with a series of questions. These are intended to entrap and discredit him in the presence of the crowd. We get the sense, very quickly, that Jesus’ entry on Sunday and his actions of Monday are making the leadership very uneasy. They want to figure out a way to silence him before the Passover or at least loosen his hold on the crowds. Jesus, understanding what is going on, responds in an equally challenging way, sometimes turning the questions back upon them and sometimes directly indicting them.
The first scripture reading begins the verbal challenges. They come asking him the question, “By what authority are you doing these things?” The things they are referring to are his overturning the tables in the temple on Monday and keeping commerce from going through the temple grounds. The question is intended to lure Jesus into making a claim that might incriminate him. If Jesus says he is the messiah or anointed one, they could report it to the Romans who would deal with him. If he said he was the new high priest the crowds would likely turn away from him as being too radical. He would sound like another extremist from the Essene community or another such fringe group.
Jesus parries the question with a question asking by what authority John the Baptist had done his ministry. There were two answers. His authority came from God or John was just full of himself. The leaders did not like either possible answer. The first would make them seem hypocritical because if he was a prophet sent by God why did they not support him. The other would cause the crowds to turn on them because they believed John to be a prophet. So they answer, “We do not know.” At best it is an awkward response. Jesus not only evaded their trap, but made them look foolish.
Jesus then shares the parable of the vineyard and how the tenants beat and kill the slaves and son of the owner. The temple leadership understand that it is an indictment of their management. Then we move on to their next question to Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” Here they think they have him. If Jesus says pay the tax, the people will be angry with him, for they hate the taxes. If he says don’t pay it, then the Romans will arrest him as a revolutionary. Jesus responds: “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It is a brilliant non-answer focusing more on what God would want from us than on the legality of the tax.
We are not done yet. Then there was the challenge by the Sadducees concerning whether there is a resurrection of the dead, with Jesus answering in a way that challenges their perceptions and declarations. Then a scribe asks the question as to what is the greatest commandment. The scribe’s response to Jesus’ answer makes it clear that he sees Jesus response challenging the temple system. He understands that Jesus sees this all-consuming love of God as being more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus, in the second scripture read, directly challenges the teachings and practices of the scribes, telling the people to not follow their example. He ends the time in the temple with a celebration of the widow’s offering while scoffing at the gifts of the rich and the powerful, the ones who are also in league with the high priest.
After leaving the temple, the disciples sit down on the Mount of Olives with Jesus. He speaks about the destruction of the temple. When asked when this will happen Jesus goes into a discourse that has become known as “the little apocalypse” where he uses symbolism found also in the book of Revelation. He shares that all sorts of cataclysmic events will occur before the Son of Man returns.
Whew, we are finally done with the day. What a day of verbal jousting. It is clear that the leadership of the Temple is fixed on getting rid of Jesus and it is just as clear that Jesus is completely discouraged with how the leaders are running the temple and what he feels they have done to the faith and faithful of Jerusalem. There is no turning back now. Something has got to give.
Now we need to ask the all-important question, “What does all this mean for us today?” For me, it seems that the answer must center on what it means to be faithful to God. From being asked to love God fully, to offering to God what is God’s, to being a faithful tenant, and so forth, we hear a call by Jesus to step away from the “business as usual” mindset. His words on this Tuesday really challenge us, as it did his original hearers, to see what God is calling us to do instead of trying to justify what we do.
To get at that calling I think it begins with the question, “What does faithfulness mean to me?” We need to see there is a tremendous difference between going to church and giving ourselves fully to God. In Jesus’ day the temple leaders were saying, come to the temple, pay your temple tax, do your offerings and you are faithful. Jesus talks about justice and service and being transformed. He talks about a lifestyle where we give God first place in our lives and are willing to sacrifice for our faith. He challenges us to turn away from business as usual and really stretch ourselves in being faithful.
This makes me ask a further question. Where do I end up having the same mindset as the leaders of the temple? When we feel that going to church and putting something in the collection plate is all we have to do to be faithful, we are like them. When we want a religion that blesses our views on politics or social issues instead of challenging us to really ask what does our faith say about this, we are like them. When we want our way in worship instead of asking what is transformational for most, we are like them. When we want to be right instead of asking what is best or of God, we are like them. The temple leaders represent the comfortable ways we have always done it and Jesus challenged them and would do the same to us.
Jesus’ actions this day ask all of us to reflect on where we are called to take a stand. Jesus was heading for a cross and so he asks us what sacrifices are we willing to make and in what ways are we willing to change? Continually asking these questions keeps us growing in faith.
I am reminded of a conversation I heard while serving another church. An individual was really upset at coffee hour about how the church wasn’t doing anything for the poor in the community. Someone mentioned the giving to the food bank and other ministries the church was cooperating in to help in that community. He said, it isn’t enough, the church should do more. At that point one of the people hearing this smiled and said, “I am glad you think so. I volunteer every Tuesday at the food bank. We are needing more volunteers. I will pick you up at 9. The man looked shocked. He wanted to protest but then realized that if he felt the church should do more, he would need to do more.
That is a simple example of someone who was trying to listen to what Jesus was saying on Tuesday. So I want to leave you with this challenge. Where can you, today, accept Jesus’ challenge and move away from business as usual in your faith? In your prayers with God, ask how God is challenging you this day to grow, to change, to give or to serve. Don’t resist but accept. Make the commitment that by this time next week you will be doing at least one thing different in your life of faith as your personal commitment to the one who calls us to sacrifice and to grow daily as we take up our cross.
Tuesday has been a long day and darkness is coming on, a darkness that will deepen as the week continues to unfold.