Scripture: Mark 11:15-19
In today’s passage, the moment Jesus arrived in Jerusalem he immediately went to the temple and engaged in an act of disruption, an act of civil and ecclesiastical disobedience. It was a dramatic confrontation.
Jesus went to the seat of religious power in his world, which was also the seat of imperial power in Judaea, and performed a prophetic act in disrupting the business of the temple and indicting it as a place of robbers. To put an exclamation mark on that, he stayed for the rest of the day and taught in such a powerful and charismatic way that he kept the people spellbound and left the authorities afraid to touch him.
It’s hard to translate this into today’s terms, but imagine that St. Peter’s Basilica were in Washington, D.C., and that St. Peter’s and the Capitol Building were one and the same. Then imagine some self-proclaimed preacher showing up, performing an act that disrupts the whole place, bringing business to a grinding halt. Then that same upstart sticks around to teach and preach, and he keeps the people so enraptured that the various policing powers were afraid to stop the guy and arrest him.
And now going back to our biblical story, at the end of the day, Jesus and his disciples just up and left the temple and walked out of Jerusalem.
Suffice it to say, Jesus wasn’t condemning mere unfair business practices; he was provoking the chief priests and the Romans in such a way as to result in his own death sentence. To be clear, crucifixion was an imperial form of execution for political criminals.
This action speaks to the central meaning of Jesus’ ministry. As Marcus Borg explains in Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, Jesus came to the peasants. The Jews of Jesus’ day, if they weren’t religious and political leaders, were peasants, exploited by the imperial domination system and its collaborators, the religious leaders. Jesus brought a message about the nature of God as a God of love, justice and compassion, and about life lived passionately, radically centered in God. This was a message about transformation of life in this world; it was radically different from what was coming out of the temple. And on this day during Jesus’ last week, this was a message that he brought to the center of power, the religious and imperial powers that governed the day-to-day lives of the peasants.
If we are to take Jesus seriously and follow him, this means participating in this passion for God and God’s nature of love, justice and compassion. This is a very different way of living, and at times it can put us in conflict with the powers of today, whether they be political, economic or even religious. May we embrace this challenge to be passionate about God, to be loving and compassionate, and to pursue justice in all that we do.
O Gracious one, give us the courage to seek after your passions, to be loving and compassionate, and to seek justice just as you are these things. Open our eyes to those who are oppressed by the structuring of society that so often benefits the privileged. Conflict and provoke us such that we never grow complacent in who we are and the comfortable lives that we might otherwise live. Call and urge us into a new and different way of being, and give us the strength to never cease answering that call, always pursuing a life made perfect in love. Amen.
What does taking Jesus seriously, following him and participating in his passion require of you today?
Kevin Nelson, Brighton, MA