A Den of Robbers – Monday in Holy Week

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.

jn02_15b


 

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.

Seeing the Glory of God

Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

The raising of Lazarus strikes me as an odd lesson for the Feast of All Saints.  It brings with it all sorts of baggage around prayer, belief, and why God won’t keep/raise my loved one from death.  It occurs before our passage begins, but there is also that whole deal about Jesus delaying his trip to visit Lazarus while he is sick.  It seems to me that it invites a whole lot of sloppy exegesis by unprepared preachers, which is why I prefer the old Book of Common Prayer Lectionary for All Saints’ Day.  The Beatitudes seem so well suited for a sermon on all the saints, as does, in my less than humble opinion, the lesson from Ecclesiasticus.  Perhaps there will be more on that tomorrow (nb. I know I’m failing in the blogging depart as of late.  I promise you, it’ll get back to normal soon).

Still, there is that bit in the Lazarus lesson where Jesus invites Martha to simply believe and see the glory of God that does seem well suited for a tricky feast like All Saints’.  We all struggle to keep the faith from time to time.  One thing that all the saints of God have in common is that, from time to time, we all have doubts and distractions that creep in and blind us (hence John’s reference back to Jesus healing the man born blind in chapter 9), keeping us from being able to see the glory of God as it is revealed in the miraculous and the mundane.

That blindness comes in many forms.  For me, over the past few weeks, it is been good old fashioned busyness that has kept me from taking the time to see God’s hand at work in the world around me.  Sometimes, like in the case of Martha and Mary, it is grief that keeps us blind to God’s steadfast love.  Maybe it is anger, depression, doubt, or any number of other distractions that have closed your eyes to the glory of God.  Jesus promises us that all we have to do is believe, which to me means, since I’m neck deep in James for the real life Draughting Theology, that we have to act as if until our eyes our open again.

Sometimes the life of faith really is just going through the motions of daily prayer and study, even to the point of forcing ourselves to engage the practices of devotion.  It is in continuing those habits that God will bless us with eye opening experiences.  It is in the routine of prayer and scripture reading that we relearn how to see God’s glory, that we learn to slow down and really look, that we come to understand what God’s hand at work really looks like.  May God bless you with open eyes, dear reader, and when they go blind, may he continue to show his glory to you in the habits of the faithful.