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Monday, April 06, 2009

Day Two: You Don't Want to See Me When I'm Angry

On the as yet unnamed Palm Sunday, Jesus finished the day in front of the temple. He looked around a bit, according to Mark, but since it was late, he left and went out to Bethany, which was only a mile and a half away from Jerusalem.

Here is what happens on Monday (Mark 11:12-19):

1. On the way back in town Jesus stops to get some figs from a tree
2. Fig tree has no fruit, because it is out of season, so Jesus curses the tree
3. Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers
4. Jesus stops anyone from moving through the temple courtyard with merchandise
5. Before leaving the town again, Jesus delivers one of the great lines of the Bible, "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.'"

Both the Commentary and Borg agree that the robbers are not the money changers. They were regulated and performing a service. According to Mark, at least in the eyes of the temple establishment, the robbers referred to the temple establishment. The Commentary notes that JC Superstar notwithstanding, robbers cannot be translated thieves. The connotation is that of a violent law breaker, perhaps even a leader of revolt. Although, the best reading is probably that the slur is directed at the temple leaders--the religious Establishment.

I notice that Jesus did not take time to understand the point that the temple leaders had and work to incorporate their theology into his. He turned their tables upside down, said they weren't doing God's work, and if that resulted in him getting to trouble, then so be it.

I'm just saying.

1 comment:

Bob Howard said...

Hi again, Jim,

A comment on the "temple incident" (11:15-16): the word used for "drive out" is the very word translated "cast out" in the exorcisms (1:32; 3:15; 6:13; 7:26, and so on) (and actually of the Holy Spirit's actions upon Jesus himself following his baptism, 1:12). Further, I notice that, in Mark's way of telling the story, Jesus casts out "unclean spirits" -- his job is to "clean up" this world. One more clue. That pesky scripture about the Holy Spirit coming into Jesus at his baptism "as a dove"? One commentary surveys 16 separate explanations of the peculiar "as a dove" description. So I thought, hmmm, where else in Mark does "dove" appear? What do you know -- the sellers of doves ("pigeons" in the NRSV, but it's the same Greek word)! Why were they selling doves? Well, the were selling animals for sacrifice in order to spare the pilgrims from having to lug those beasts for miles and miles. Very convenient. And what about doves? They were the "poor persons'" substitute for larger animals to be used for purity sacrifices (Leviticus 12:8 -- 2 doves, one for sin and one for burnt offering; 14:22 -- same idea; same with 15:14, 29). Pulling it all together, what if, for Mark, Jesus was the designated "poor persons'" sacrifice to purify humanity into God's New People? And his action of "cleansing" the Temple was precisely that: a public exorcism of the center of religious practice, which had gone impure? Brings a little extra "oomph" to the temple curtain ripped in two, eh?