Holy Week Addresses
Canon Adrian Daffern
April 10th - 12th 2017
Monday in Holy Week 2017: Mark 11.12-19 (p 1016)
The next day – that’s today. The day before was Palm Sunday. Mark tells us that Jesus, having entered Jerusalem, went straight to the temple. Intriguingly, Mark says ‘he looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went to Bethany with the twelve.’ [Mark 11.11]
Next day, leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He spotted a fig-tree from a distance, and looked to see if it had anything growing on it. Only leaves, no fruit. Mark tells us, it’s not fig season. Too right, it was the month of Nisan, which is our March-April. You won’t find any figs. Note that nothing happens to the tree. You need to remember that.
So to Jerusalem: Jesus enters the temple, as he did the night before. He drove out those buying and selling. Overturned the tables of money changers, wouldn’t allow anyone to carry things they had bought.
You need to know that these people were engaged in legitimate activity. Coinage was Roman, but that was blasphemous, it bore a graven image, the head of Caesar, so it needed to be changed into acceptable coinage for the collection, the shekel. Animals needed to be kosher, clean, as required by law, so if you were making a pilgrimage at Passover, your best bet was to buy the required animal for sacrifice there. [Cf Exodus 12.5; Leviticus 1.3]
So, what is Jesus so cross about?
The clue is in the quotation. Listen to it in context:
. . . Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign Lord declares - he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.” [Isaiah 56.6-8]
The role the temple will play on the day of the Lord when God intervenes to save his people. Whole world will stream to the temple. But the temple of Jesus’ day had become a place of rejection. Temple meant to be the gateway to heaven, the place, surely, where God’s Son would be made welcome? Worse, the temple had become a place of collusion – that’s why Jesus adds another quotation, this time from Jeremiah:
Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord. [Jeremiah 7.11]
The word for robbers is the clue here. [In Greek σπήλαιον λῃστῶν, den of robbers] It’s the same word used to describe Barabbas – and it’s not robber. Sometimes its translated as brigand, but it means ‘a politically motivated outlaw whose goal was to overthrow the system’ [Gooder, Journey to the Empty Tomb (Canterbury Press 2014), 21] In other words, Jesus is angry because the temple had become a place where those in charge were seeking their own glory and power, and, in the process, overthrowing God’s power. They have stolen the temple. Jesus, in his actions, curses them – just as he cursed the fig-tree.
Those ‘robbers’ the chief priests et al, are not happy, because he was having an impact on the crowd, - and Jerusalem wasn’t going to cope with them, and him. Someone had to go. And we know who.
What would Jesus do if he came here today? Would he tear up our chair leaflets? Would he object to our fund-raising? Would he accuse you, and me, of failing to live up to our calling? I hope not – we seek only to give him the glory. Don’t we? The one who exercises judgments on the moneychangers also has the power to exercise judgment on us. Our words and deeds should always be faithful to his teaching. Our outward actions, and invisible thoughts, should always conform to the way of the cross.
One last thing – why did the fig-tree get such a rough deal? To find out the answer to that one, you need to return tomorrow. The disciples found out on the Tuesday of Holy Week. And so will you.
Tuesday in Holy Week 2017: Mark 11.20; 12.41-44 (pp 1016 & 1018)
Last night we heard the story of Monday in Holy Week, when Jesus ‘cleansed’ the Temple, and, on his way there. Cursed the fig-tree for being fruitless, even though it wasn’t the season for figs. As we heard this evening, at the start of Tuesday of what we call Holy Week, Jesus and his disciples passed that fig-tree on their way back to the Temple. Peter remembers – Rabbi, look! The fig-tree in the Old Testament is a symbol of God’s blessing. Throughout the OT the lack of figs on a fig tree is a used as a representation of the barrenness, the fruitlessness of Israel. So here, the fruitless fig-tree is representing the faithlessness and fickleness of the ‘den of robbers’, the chief priests and scribes in hock with the Romans, appeasers, collaborators, traitors. They do not bear fruit. And they, too shall wither.
But this isn’t all that happens on the Tuesday after Palm Sunday. And my problem tonight is that too much happens on Tuesday, far more than I have time to share with you this evening. In Mark’s Gospel, Good Friday takes up 47 verses; Maundy Thursday 60 verses. Tuesday – today – 115 verses, from 11.23-13.37. Tuesday, in Mark, is the longest day of this longest of weeks.
The chief priests and elders question Jesus’ authority. He teaches the parable of the tenants in the vineyard. They then ask him about tax – render unto Caesar etc. They then ask further questions, about the resurrection, and the law. Jesus asks them about the messiah, and instructs his followers to beware the scribes. Then we move on to what scholars call ‘the little apocalypse’ the devastating chapter 13 of Mark which warns of the end times, and instructs his followers to keep alert, to watch, to keep awake’. All of which he teaches on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple. ‘What I say to you, I say to everyone – watch!’. All of that on one day. Tuesday. Today.
Plus, one other story – and that was most of the reading you heard a few moments ago. I had to choose something to focus on out of this incredible mixture; and looking through my sermons here over the last seven years, I noted that I have preached on these passages except this one. And I was struck afresh by its apparent simplicity, and, yet, extraordinary power.
It perhaps tempting to find this story just a tad cute – sweet little old lady, tottering along to the temple, being really generous.
And Jesus making an obvious point. She has almost nothing, and she gives it all – in contrast to those who have so much, and give relatively little.
And that works. She, the widow is a positive image of discipleship. And she is a model for you, and me. I am constantly aghast in these parishes at the incredibly low level of giving. Even now, in 2017, the giving per head in Woodstock and Bladon is lower than in my post-industrial working-class parish in Walsall in the year 2000. There, people made choices about holiday destinations and cars relative to how much the church needed to pay its share and build its ministry. In Coventry, a member of the congregation sold their large house, bought one at a third of the price, and gave the proceeds to the cathedral to establish a new ministry to students and young people. That’s Christian giving. Not many of us are doing it.
The widow gives two ‘lepta’, the smallest, thinnest, lowest denomination Roman coins. They were everything that she had. To give even one of those coins would be outstandingly generous. She gave both. Jesus is clear – the wealthy (and that includes those chief priests, scribes and teachers) are criticised. Those who are poor are deserving of compassion. Those who are generous – utterly generous- are blessèd. [Borg and Crossan, The Last Week (SPCK 2008), 75]
This story, and everything else, comes between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. This is part of the way to the cross. We are not skipping these days – we are here to understand what the journey to the cross means. And part of understanding that is about what you and I are willing to let go of, so that we are freer people; freer to bear our share of the cross’ weight. That might be money – for most of us that’s the sticking point. It might be our pride. It is, most likely, some kind of sin. Jesus invites you, lovingly, but firmly, to heed his teaching. The one who exercises judgments on the scribes also has the power to exercise judgment on us. Our words and deeds should always be faithful to his teaching. Our outward actions, and invisible thoughts, should always conform to the way of the cross.
Tomorrow we return to Bethany, and hear the story – perhaps – of the woman this building is dedicated to: Mary Magdalene. The Wednesday of Holy Week belongs to her. And, like the widow, she has much to teach us about what it truly means to give.
Wednesday in Holy Week 2017: Mark 14.1-11 (p 1020)
I wonder if, as you came into church tonight, you looked up to see the tiny statue above the entrance to the porch? If you did – and I dare say it will be there next time if you didn’t – you’ll see an image depicting two things: a woman, and a jar. The woman is Mary Magdalene, and the jar is the jar (in Greek, ἀλάβαστρον [alabastron]) of perfume with which she anointed Jesus. So far so good.
Well, not really. Because it wasn’t her. Did you hear mention of Mary Magdalene in tonight’s reading? No. Nor in Matthew, nor in John, nor in Luke BUT Luke does mention ‘Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons came out’ [Luke 8.2] a few verses after his version, and, since a chap called Ephraem first suggested it about 1600 years ago [Gooder, 33], people have put two and two together and made a considerably larger sum than four.
Not to worry. The story is a beautiful, whatever the woman’s name. It happens, mark tells us, two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That’s today.
They are in Bethany. It means ‘house of the poor’, remember? He’s at the house of someone called Simon the leper – perhaps someone Jesus healed? In comes a woman with an ἀλάβαστρον full of expensive perfume, made of pure nard. Nard is an oil which is extracted form a plant which grows in the foothills of the Himalayas. Mark tells us that it costs more than 300 hundred denarii. In our terms that’s round about £25k.
Simon’s guests are not happy. What a waste.
Indeed, what a waste. That is my stipend, before tax and national insurance! Imagine how many chairs we could buy for that. That would pay for the new loos and access to the tower room. How many starving children would it feed in Syria, in Somalia, in South Sudan? Incalculable. What a waste.
This is what Archbishop Justin says about this story:
It was deeply extravagant as a gift, ridiculously extravagant. It was pure gratuity, grace, an expression of profound love of Christ, because she saw that (since we are talking about cosmetics) he was worth it. Our response to Christ as individuals and as a church, and as a society, should be to be overwhelmed, so that we respond as ludicrously.
The Archbishop always chooses his words with care. He invites us to not to be afraid of appearing, or even being, ludicrous in our response to Christ. So, I ask: Are you overwhelmed with love for him? Are you able to express your love for him, by the way you pray, witness, worship, and give? Is he worth it?
Archbishop Justin makes a second point:
. . . the anointing did no practical good. Jesus did not benefit from it. No time was saved after the crucifixion. We would have advised Mary against such a culturally noticeable and sexually ambiguous statement. I can hear myself advising against it. Nobody is recorded as having their mind changed about Jesus as a result.
Sometimes people ask me why I bother – why I became a priest, why I come to church apart from the obvious answer being that I’m paid to). They wonder why I didn’t become an organist, or a teacher, or a film star. And the simple answer is – because he’s worth it. Worth it is where we get our English word ‘worship’ from. We don’t come to change to change his mind about us. We come so that our minds might changed about him. We’re here, tonight, because he’s worth it. We’ll be here tomorrow night, because he’s worth it. We’ll be here on Good Friday, and, how exciting, on Easter Day, because he’s worth it.
Jesus tells the gathering that her actions were, in part, a preparation for his burial – after all, there would not be time to anoint his body after the crucifixion, he had to be quickly buried before the Sabbath began. That’s why the women went early on Sunday morning to the tomb, their first chance to honour the body of their Lord. Jesus says that ‘wherever the good news is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her’. [Mark 14.9]
The story does not end on that poignant, beautiful note. Verses 10 and 11 remind us that there is another character in this drama whose story will also be told. His name is Judas Iscariot. It was an act of worship, that was the final straw for Judas. Our words and deeds should always be faithful to the teaching of Jesus. Our outward actions, and invisible thoughts, should always conform to the way of the cross.
We have a decision to make. We can be like Judas, and lose sight of what love and worship truly are. Or we can be like her, and be ludicrous in our passion for him. Perhaps a small statue, over the door of our church, of a woman, and a jar, will help us make the right choice.
Previous blog posts:
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