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.



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.

Jesus was hungry

Each post this week will focus on the biblical account of the events that occurred in the last week of Jesus’ life.  Today’s reading is from Mark 11:12-19 (NRSV).

Jesus Clears the Temple 
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.  15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:”‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”  18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.  19 When evening came, they went out of the city.

Biblical scholarship suggests that Mark’s gospel was the first to be put to parchment, somewhere in the late 60s CE.  While the christological debates heated up after the first generation of Christians had died, it is clear from some of Paul’s writing that even by the mid-first century, leaders of The Way were struggling to balance the competing ideas that Jesus was God and Jesus was human.   So, it seems to make sense that Mark’s account of Jesus’ final week would be interspersed with details that highlight both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity.  Here on “Fig Monday” most of the attention is paid to Jesus turning the tables in the Temple, but this year, I’m struck more by the simple fact that Jesus was hungry.

Mark isn’t just the earliest Gospel, but it is also the shortest.  It carries very few of the details that Matthew and Luke seem to have found in their shared Q source.  So, when details do show up in Mark, they are worth paying attention to.  Here, just before Jesus shows his power even over the trees of the earth, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again,” Mark highlights Jesus humanity in sharing with us that Jesus was hungry.

I come from a long line of men who get cranky when we’re hungry, so I appreciate this short story from Mark.  I can’t tell you how many restaurants I’ve cursed for not having what I was hungry for on their menu.  I’m reminded of the time I had a 6am flight and arrived at a 24 hour fast food establishment before!!! they began serving breakfast.  My own grouchiness aside, I’m thankful for Mark’s attention to detail this Monday in Holy Week.  Jesus’ humanity and divinity will be at odds with each other several times this week, just as I struggle with letting go of my will and seeking after God’s.  May Christ’s ultimate example of submission to the will of God guide each of us this week and in the months and years to come.