University Congregational Church
March 16, 2014
The Last Week: Tuesday
Tuesdays are odd days, aren’t they? They don’t have the historical dread that Mondays seem to hold for us and there really is none of the joy about them that Fridays have. Tuesdays don’t even have a fun nickname like the ones we give to Wednesdays and Thursdays: Hump Day and Little Friday. I don’t have to elaborate on Saturday, because everyone loves Saturday– and we all know that Sunday is the day we dress up a bit and come to the little white church with the steeple in North East Wichita.
Well, the Tuesday that Jesus experienced in his last week– His last Tuesday– was the busiest day of His last week—at least according to Mark’s Gospel. Mark fills almost three chapters with 115 verses making Tuesday the longest day in Mark’s story of Jesus’ last week. About two-thirds of the day’s accounting are stories of conflict with the temple and temple authorities and their associates. The remaining third deals with the coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and with the coming of the Son of Man, all of which are in their very near future.
So, I’d like to start at the beginning of that day. Robin’s in Israel. I’ll try to have you out of here by 1:45 or so. Jesus’ last week—Paul’s last sermon. When Robin and I were discussing this sermon series and the fact that I’d be delivering two of them during her absence, we both agreed that the first temptation of a new seminarian would be to tackle the entire day. That one should hit on every parable and utterance from this important Tuesday. And we both agreed that would be a mistake. This entire sermon is my take on this part of Jon Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s book, The Last Week—What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem. Ready? Here we go!
At 5:05 am on that Tuesday, Jesus’ alarm went off. He hit the snooze button three times (twice according to Matthew)…
Actually—we have a series of parables and stories that provide insight into Jesus’ conflicts with the temple authorities and the brilliant way in which he handled each situation. First there’s a situation involving the temple authorities’ questioning Jesus’ authority to even be present in the temple. Jesus handles the Sadducees and Chief Priests and Scribes deftly by challenging their devotion to John the Baptist (who was immensely popular at the time). Then Jesus tells the parable of the greedy tenants. It’s a complex parable involving a vineyard and tenants who rob the landlord’s messengers and rent collectors and kill his son.
After this bit of exhausting teaching, Jesus had his morning tea (well, Luke and John disagree on this—Luke says it was a rich coffee blend, perhaps from Starbucks, but John is certain it was tea– me, I like the new scholarship that supports the Coke Zero Theory, but I digress…).
Anyway, after his morning break he gets right back to work and is accosted by the Pharisees again with another trick question involving the payment of taxes. This is the part where Jesus’ utters his famous “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” speech. Good stuff, there. Right after that, Mark tells us that the Sadducees question Jesus if God is of the living or if God is of the Dead. I’ll let you read that one for yourselves. It is way above my limited theological understanding.
Then Jesus had lunch. We don’t know all of the details, but a document was recently uncovered at Nag Hammadi that scholars tell us was an American Express receipt signed by Jesus. He even put a pithy little quote by the total amount due. Something to do with the waiter’s pledge. They’re still working on the translation.
After lunch Jesus answers one of the scribes questions about which commandment is the greatest commandment—Jesus deflects that one brilliantly, doesn’t he?—it’s the traditional word in your bulletin if you want the full account—and then Jesus attacks the scribes about their teaching and practices.
Finally, he spends the rest of the day preaching about the coming destruction of the temple and the “little apocalypse” that is imminent. The “big apocalypse”, is of course, found in Revelation, but this “little apocalypse” is Jesus’ admonition to us to be wary that no one leads us astray—think false prophets and teachers—he tells us to flee to the mountains—and he says to “keep alert—watch—keep awake”.
That’s a pretty busy Tuesday. I’d be lucky to get even that first temple authority question resolved by 5 PM on a good Tuesday.
OK—So I digressed a little bit. The tea and lunch comments are not biblical. But I think it’s important to remember that Jesus would have needed a rest during this busy, busy day. He was, after all, a human being.
Let’s go back to Monday for a minute: Remember Monday of The Last Week? Robin told us last Sunday of the two parables that were framed in Mark’s Gospel: The cursing of the fig tree and the over-turning of the money changer’s tables. And she carefully reminded us that when the church (or religious authority of the day) puts anything above justice, God rejects it. God rejects it again and again. Then on Tuesday, we have Jesus’ followers comment, first thing, on the fig tree from Monday. They basically say, look, a dead fig tree. You cursed it and it died. Nice work.
So now on Tuesday we have the religious authorities of the day challenging Jesus on any number of topics—his authority, his pedigree, his theology, and his stand on Roman taxation—lots of challenges. And at each obstacle, Jesus turns the tables back on the inquisitors. He reminds them that their beloved John the Baptist baptized him—so he has the right to be present in the temple. We have him bluntly saying that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul AND to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Then we have Jesus starkly and simply addressing perennial church/state issues with his “give unto Caesar” statement. And all of this verbal repartee is transpiring in and around the temple I Jerusalem.
I think we could call this Tuesday of The Last Week—Temple Tuesday, (there’s our new nickname)—because it all revolves around the importance of the temple in Jewish society and everything event that happened on this day, took place in, or near, the temple in Jerusalem. The temple would have been filled with pilgrims from all over the region–visiting the big city for the Passover celebration that is already in full swing. The temple would be teeming with people.
And let’s look at the temple. The temple played an important role in daily Jewish life. Religious faith was the central part of Jewish life in first century Palestine. Many of their daily activities were based around fulfilling the commandments that are found in the Torah.
In the time of Jesus, Jewish life and culture centered on the Temple—actually, in this case, the second Temple, which had been rebuilt by Herod the Great after the first Temple, Solomon’s Temple, was destroyed in 587 BCE. Crowds of people thronged in and out of the Temple every day, making ritual animal sacrifices to atone for particular sins, this was another common practice for Jewish people of the time.
So what if you didn’t belong to the club? What if you were not born Jewish? Where is your justice? How do you atone for your sins? How to gain access to “God”? There were other religions at the time, but the Jews held hegemony in Jerusalem at this time and would do so up until AD 70 when this second temple was destroyed.
When one approached The Temple in Jerusalem, everyone encountered a giant stop sign, called the temple warning. It was a big slab of limestone with large, red letters that said this:
“Let No Gentile Enter within the partition and barrier surrounding the temple; whosoever is caught shall be responsible for his subsequent death.”
Gentiles were excluded from the temple and all temple rites and rituals and privileges. The temple warning is pretty clear. But is this just? Is the temple a place of justice? For that matter, is the church a place of justice? Remember, we’re clearly told about Monday of the Last Week that anything the church does that does not include justice is rejected by God.
So who’s excluded from our temple? Who’s excluded from the full participation of life in our church? In other churches in Town? In THE church in America? In the world-wide church? Is it the poor? Is it the illiterate? Is it the boorish? Is it the disfigured? Is it folks with tattoos? Is it folks who love differently than you? Folks who think differently than you?
Would our hygiene pantry families feel welcome at UCC? Or would they encounter a big red-lettered slab at our driveway?
I like to think we’d welcome them with open arms. I like to think we’d really hear Jesus telling us that the greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What about you? Are you excluded? Where can you not go? Where can you not eat? Not shop? Not pray? Where would you not feel justice?
Mark, in his Gospel, tells of the imminent return of the Son of Man—that Jesus would return to the early Christians in their lifetime—this was their fervent belief and hope. And it didn’t happen. It still hasn’t happened. At least in a literal sense. Crossan and Borg argue, and I agree, that the second coming of Jesus will triumph—through us, despite the “tumult and resistance of this world.” The struggle goes on—and each of us, each day, when we choose to live in right relationship with each other, when we choose to do the right thing… when we act out of confidence and enduring hope–each of us embodies the spirit of Jesus Christ.
Is the church the Second Coming of Jesus? Are we living His return on a daily basis?
Who knew that a mere Tuesday could catalyze such change in the world? Who would’ve ever thought a plain, old, boring Tuesday would hold such revolutionary ideas in it? The seeds of justice.
Keep alert—watch—keep awake—lest we slip into the delusion that we, and we alone, belong in the temple, in the church, and that there are others out there who do not. I know of a radical Jewish man who might have a few choice words for you.