As hard as it is to believe, Holy Week is upon us. In just a few short days, we’ll be in the midst of the Paschal Triduum, remembering those final acts of love and devotion that brought salvation to the world. At Saint Paul’s, we remember this week by walking with Jesus day by day through the Gospel of Mark. As such, I’ll be reflecting on those daily lessons here at Draughting Theology. Today’s lesson is Mark 11:12-19: Jesus Clears the Temple.
I’ve always been interested in the fit that Jesus throws in the Temple. In the Synoptics, it happens (roughly) on Monday in Holy Week, while in John it comes right at the beginning of his ministry. John’s version has Jesus upset that the Temple has become an emporium, while the Synoptics all have Jesus quoting Isaiah 56:7 in his admonition: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
The word translated as “robbers” comes from the word for “to plunder.” As in, the Temple has become a place where people who don’t belong are taking what is the rightful possession of someone else. The money changers, the sacrifice salesmen, even the priests themselves have forcibly removed the God of all creation from his holy Temple and are taking the religious devotion of the people as profit for themselves.
This point was brought home to me in the Psalm appointed for Morning Prayer today:
Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, *
but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; *
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51 is read on Ash Wednesday, and to read it again today makes for a nice bookend to Lent, but it also strikes as a harsh reminder for church leaders that God desires much more than our going through the motions. As we encourage our people to walk the Way of the Cross, it isn’t about what they might get out of it. it isn’t about having good numbers to write in our service books. Instead, it is about the opportunity to contemplate on those might acts, by which we have been given immortality through Jesus Christ. By meditating on the love of God that took Jesus to the cross, we might find within ourselves something stronger than burnt-offerings: a broken and contrite heart.