Lessons from Jesus coming to the big city

For inspiration and learning, I read a page or two of devotional literature as I start my morning prayer time.  In early December, I usually read some prophet–Isaiah or Jeremiah.  Close to Christmas, I start a gospel–Matthew or Luke.  I like to finish a gospel book in the Spring.  I don’t belong to a liturgical church, but I’m coming to see some truth in linking the myths and stories with the seasons around us.  So this selection of reaPalm Sunday inkdings is my personal liturgical calendar.  I’ve written about this before.

After reading the nativity story, I switched gospels this year.  Mark is spare, episodic and full of Jesus advocating for social change and a fair shake for peasants.  A couple of weeks ago, I paused in my reading of Mark to leave Jesus’s terminal week in Jerusalem until the week before Passover on my calendar.  Instead, I found Tom Head’s pamphlet, Envisioning a Moral Economy and the books of Ruth and Esther helpful for focusing.

Yesterday, I started reading these passages.  Jesus doesn’t speak much on the first couple of days.  His actions do provide a powerful message.  This time through, I’m noticing a different message each day.

I’m drawing a lot from a three year old post on the blog of my friend Paul C.  Read it!  It’s powerful.On the first day of the week, Jesus steals a donkey and rides it into the city.  Local people praise and sing to him.  I forget who told me, but it was probably Joe, the same teacher Paul mentioned, that this scene struck a marked contrast to the Roman military might that had been displayed in a military parade just days earlier.  Getting off the donkey at the big temple, Jesus doesn’t say anything, but he does look around.  The kingdom Jesus shows and tells us about is clearly not maintained by state controlled force and big warhorses.

On the second day, Jesus comes to the temple and stops all the economic activity, much of which had been developed to gouge the many Passover visitors as they changed money and bought sacrificial doves.  He says, “Does not scripture say:  My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples?  But you have turned it into a bandits’ den.”  So this day’s message seems to be that the kingdom is not built from money extracted from peasants.

The first day was a parody of the Romans and an appeal to common folk.  The second day is aimed at the crooked commerce from which the temple establishment probably was taking its cut.  Rather than parody, Jesus used temporary disruption and resistance.

This morning, I read ahead to the next couple of days, but I haven’t distilled their messages yet.  Nor do I understand much about the fig tree that withers overnight after Jesus curses it for its barrenness.  Anybody got a clue?

2 thoughts on “Lessons from Jesus coming to the big city

  1. Hi, Jay! The fig tree story was actually what got me started about Mark’s story of the last days in Jerusalem. I am no expert, but here’s what others have taught me.

    First off, many people think that the fig tree story is closely connected with the temple, as the cursing story brackets the cleansing of the temple.

    Second, the story tells us that it was “not the season for figs.” So as some interpret it, Jesus did not curse the fig tree because it didn’t have figs, which would seem ungrateful. He cursed it because it was out of season entirely, promising one thing (by being in leaf) but failing to deliver.

    Connect that to the temple and you have Jesus cursing something that is out of its proper time, making promises but failing to deliver: it’s a metaphor for the priestly/temple religion as a whole. It’s Jesus’s time, not the temple’s.

    • Paul

      A delayed thanks for helping out this discussion. The request for approval of your comment got trapped by my spam filter for a week.

      I need to punch my time clock and go to work soon, but I’ll look at what you said tomorrow or so. There are also some comments from Patricia D. and Forrest C. over on QuakerQuaker.

      In Mark 13, Jesus is talking about a time of tribulation for the temple. He says, “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates.” I didn’t have a clue if that related to the earlier fig reference, but with the help of your comments and those from Patricia and Forrest, I might make some sense of all of this for me for now.

      Many thanks!

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