And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.” (Mark 11:15-19)
On Palm Sunday many churches celebrate by waving palm fronds, singing hymns and praise songs of “Hosanna” and re-creating the Triumphal Entry by laying down the palms—also “cloaks” or jackets or what-have-you—in the aisle for Jesus to ride upon as he enters on his donkey.
This morning our youth pastor passed out a bunch of his Hawaiian shirts for the kids to lay down. It’s a day of rejoicing for the King whom the people expected to be crowned, and to lead his people to defeat the Romans. Except that a few days later it was a crown of thorns, and a death by torture.
But that’s Good Friday’s story, followed by Easter Sunday’s. And the kingdom that comes isn’t what anyone expected. It has already come in a sense; and yet not come in another. It defies geo-political understanding, and we should stay tuned.
So, Jesus entered Jerusalem that day on a donkey; his fans and groupies giving him a flower parade all the way into town shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9)
All four gospels record the entry into Jerusalem in one form or another (besides Matthew 21 see Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12). It’s rare for all four to record the same thing; often the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record particular events that John omits, while John stands alone in recording still other events that the others leave out. But today all four tell the same story.
Often we forget that the day after the Triumphal Entry Jesus got himself into hot water with the religious authorities. Remember the Cleansing of the Temple? Jesus threw the bums out—or at least some of them, the ones selling animals for ritual sacrifice in the Temple. Many scholars agree that the selling of the animals itself was not the problem; it was expected that people would have to purchase their sacrifice if they had come to Jerusalem from a distance. But many also agree that the problem came when the pigeon-sellers and money-changers had taken over the outer court, or Court of the Gentiles. That was the part of the Temple where non-Jews (gentiles, or goyim) were allowed to enter and pray. And now they could not because it had been turned into a marketplace.
The three synoptic gospels all record this protest action by Jesus, but Mark’s gospel includes the complete phrase from Isaiah 56 that Jesus shouts to the offenders: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
This “… for all the nations” from Isaiah could be the impetus of Jesus’ anger. His ministry was about to become an international one with a timeless timetable. We see this in the final chapter of Matthew when the resurrected Jesus says before he leaves, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
The final week of Jesus’ life on earth—and the days after the resurrection—are full of drama, more than we can put together into a good spy novel. Beyond religion and theology, this gets into psychology, politics, law, history, mysticism, romance, you name it. They’re still trying to figure out the whodunnit, the how and the why.
For more on the cleansing of the Temple, click the video below for a five-minute discussion by Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright. I like this insight very much. It dovetails with other material that I’ve read, without overturning the “all the nations” interpretation. Both can hold water simultaneously. Remember that the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., not long after Jesus had confronted the system that ran it. Bishop Wright seems to suggest that the confrontation may have been the beginning of the end for the Temple, on the way to something much bigger in God’s plan. But that would depend on one’s view of Easter.
See you next week for that.
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