Holy Week is the time we remember all of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life and death before the Resurrection. We remember the story from John where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and gives the new commandment on Maundy Thursday. Celebrations of Holy Communion happen on the same day. We remember his death on Good Friday. But, we rarely have time for the events and statements that happen from Monday to Wednesday. The last week was a time when Jesus prophesied it would all burn down. Judgment is coming.
What Happened Then?
Chapters 11, 12, and 13 of Mark provides a lot of information about the days leading up to the plot and legal murder of Jesus. The historical backdrop of these chapters is what became known as The Jewish War A.D. 66-72. The major event for Jewish history was the taking of Jerusalem and the destruction of Herod’s Temple in A.D. 70. Jesus, according to Mark, foretells these events for Jerusalem. The writer gives reasons for the destruction to come. Some traditions claim the devastation – the desolating sacrilege – occurred because the Jewish leaders of the city rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The gospels never make that claim. Instead, they argue the devastation came because of something else.
What Happened On The Second Day?
The writer gives the events that lead to the plot to kill Jesus. The first happened the day after the Triumphal Entry. Jesus approaches the city and encounters a barren fig tree. We are told he was looking for figs that were not in season. He curses the tree because he finds no figs. He then goes on to the city and the Temple.
Jesus finds the Temple has become “a den of robbers” quoting words from Jeremiah. He takes action against unholy practices found there. He overturns “the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” (11:15-16)
Mark points out three issues here. The people who came to the temple from all over the known world brought Roman money with them. Jesus will later get his audience to admit the image on the money was that of Caesar. The Temple could not accept offerings from made with such unholy images. It issued it’s own coins. Trading the Roman money for these coins was not an exact trade. Money exchanges always offer reduced value for the new currency. In the ancient era, it was likely the reduced value was a lower quality of silver. The moneychangers made wealth in this way. Jesus is not against wealth. He is concerned with how it is made.
Injustice Masquerading as Holiness
The next issue is that those who sold doves were unseated. Doves were offered by the poorer people (Leviticus 5:7). If one must purchase doves for the sacrifice for sin offering, then any money exchanged to pay for the birds is already devalued. The price of the bird is inflated because of that. The poor were being exploited by these practices. They were unrighteous practices being dressed in the trappings of holiness.
The third issue is that things were being carried in the temple environs. Jesus does not allow this to happen. It appears to be too much to ask. The question is not about work being done in the Temple. It is about who is being told to do the work. Servants of those who enter to make sacrifices would be expected to bear the burdens of there masters. Jesus overturns this demand by having everyone lay their stuff down.
The Third Day
The next day the disciples see the cursed fig tree has died. But, the time for the lesson has not yet arrived. He tells Peter to “have faith in God.” The day is young and will only get more confusing.
Several spiritual authorities confront Jesus demanding to know why he caused such turmoil the previous day. He offers here a parable about the wicked tenants. In this story, Jesus tells about tenants in a vineyard who must pay rents to the landowner. They beat up the two slaves to collect the rent. Later, they kill the heir. There is only one possible conclusion.Jesus receives two questions about possessions. One is from the Pharisees and Herodians about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus instructs them to pay Caesar what is his and to God what belongs to God. The second question is from the sect of the Sadducees who have a good hypothetical question about the Resurrection. Obviously, they argue, a woman would even then belong to at least one of the men who married her. Which one does she belong to? Jesus doesn’t bother directly answering either questions. They are disguised as sincere questions of faith and practice. They are really traps.
Jesus concludes the discussion by answering the most important question about the Torah. What is the most important commandment. He answers directly this time. Love God and love your neighbor. The scribe agrees with his answer and comments, “this is much more important than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus responds the scribe is not far from the divine kingdom.
The Judgment Pronounced
Mark moves the discussion forward by claiming Jesus has greater authority than even King David did. He denounces the other scribes and their unholy practices. And then Jesus points to something else.
The offering of two copper coins by a widow who doesn’t have any of the silver coins most people would use catches Jesus’ attention. Jesus sits opposite of the temple treasury and sees this act of faith. The woman could not possibly live on the money she has. She throws it away into the temple’s treasury among the coveted money the loss of which upset so many authorities.
The disciples are still in awe of the temple. Jesus tells them it will not last. It will be taken apart. Jesus predicts devastating sacrilege will take place…again. He takes them outside the city to the Mount of Olives and explains why it will happen.
Jeremiah watched the destruction of the Temple of Solomon. He explained how the evil practices of idolatry and exploiting the poor and the stranger brought this all about. Mark explains that the era of the Temple of Herod ended the same way for the same reason. The time to burn it all down arrived. Jesus used the example of the fig tree in full leaf as the example. The end is near. And no harvest will be made.
Why Do We Avoid These Days?
We avoid these days because they are not comforting. Jesus died because what he said and did were threats to the powerful of his time. Holy Week is a time when we want to know that the fast is over and the feast is beginning. We want to know our personal sins are forgiven. We do not want to know that persistent institutional sins will bring consequences and judgement. It is even uncomfortable to know that, when it burns down, it won’t be on our terms.
A new life and way of being will rise from those ashes. It is fitting that I consider these days during a global pandemic. We are not experiencing the end of the world. We should ask ourselves this question. “Are we receiving a warning that the injustices of this era will bring judgment and destruction?” Can we do anything to stop it? Can we alleviate it in any way? Maybe. Maybe not. We can ask, “Should we do anything?”
Mark ends the Resurrection story with Jesus saying he will meet his disciples in Galilee where everything in his story began. The writer begins in the first chapter with calling for a change of heart and action to believe the good news that proclaims the promise and hope of ages.