A Lenten Epiphany

As you are probably aware, the season of Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to Easter Day and the Feast of the Resurrection.  It is a season of penitence and fasting, in which we are invited to bring to mind our sinfulness, repent of our wrong-headedness and stiff-necks, and seek God’s forgiveness.  Because Easter is a movable feast, falling on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Lent begins at different times each year.  This means that the number of Sundays after the Epiphany can vary.  What is unexpected, however, is when smack-dab in the middle of Lent, we get what feels like a Sunday in Epiphanytide.

Such is the case this Sunday with the foreshadowing that John uses in the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  The lessons appointed for the Sundays after the Epiphany tell the of the ongoing revelation of God to humanity through Jesus Christ.  We hear of the Magi, who recognize Jesus as the King of the Jews thanks to the appearance of a star in the heavens.  In the Baptism story, Jesus is revealed to be God’s beloved Son.  Nathaniel recognizes Jesus as the King of Israel.  The season always concludes with the Transfiguration of Christ, wherein Peter, James, and John are made privy to Jesus’ full revelation as the Christ of God.

In Sunday’s lesson, then, the Third Sunday in Lent becomes another opportunity for who Jesus really is to be revealed to the disciples.  After the Jewish leaders demand some credentials after his turning the Temple system on its ear, Jesus tells them what the sign will be.  “Tear down this temple, and I will build it back in three days.”  John concludes the story by noting that “after [Jesus] was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”


Note the disciples (left) looking like “This is not going to end well.”

It is a slow play, to be sure, two, more likely even three years, in the making.  Over the course of his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is continually pulling back the curtain, slowly, as his disciples and crowds are able, unveiling more and more fully who he really is and what he came to do.  It is helpful, I think, here in the season of Lent, to take a moment to reflect on what this time of preparation reveals to us about Jesus.  From the Ash Wednesday invitation to a holy Lent all the way through Holy Saturday’s holy waiting, the lead-up to Jesus’ Passion and death are constantly unveiling God’s grace and mercy to us.


Early Zeal


As is often noted, there are two versions of story of Jesus clearing the Temple.  The one that is most often cited comes from each of the three synoptic Gospels, in which Jesus, either immediately after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or shortly there after, drives out the money changers in preparation for a week of ongoing debate with the Pharisees and Scribes that will ultimately end in his arrest, torture, and death.  Less often studied, albeit read every three years on Lent 3B, is the version from John’s Gospel.  In John’s account, this story takes place on the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry.  It follows on the heels of Jesus calling his first disciples and performing his first sign by turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

While the synoptics point to the prophecy of Isaiah as Jesus’ motivation – “Why have you turned my Father’s house into a den of robbers?” – John looks instead to the Psalms.  Psalm 69.9, to be more specific.  As Jesus’ newly minted disciples look on in what can only be a combination of fear, horror, and exhilaration, Psalm 69 is recalled to them, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.”  Clearly Jesus is consumed.  Clearly Jesus is zealous for the Lord’s house.  But why so much energy?  And why so early?

It would seem that the Gospel writers were avid proof texters.  Often, in all four of the Gospels, we hear references to a passage or two, even the merging of two or more passages, of the Old Testament, used to satisfy some piece of the larger story.  What is also true, however, is that they knew that story much better than we do.  They had been hearing the accounts of the Hebrew Bible since their childhoods.  They had sung the Psalms again and again from their youth.  It seems reasonable, then, to assume that when a passage of scripture is referenced, they assume the reader/hearer knows the fuller story.  When John has the disciples recall Psalm 69.9, it isn’t just about the zeal that Jesus has for his Father’s house, but it is the fullness of the story of the Psalmist.

In this case, since it comes so early in Jesus’ ministry, the reference to Psalm 69 and the zeal of Jesus serves to foreshadow what is to come.  As we work through the season of Lent, marching ever closer to Holy Week and Jesus’ Passion, the words of Psalm 69 ring with meaning.

V. 3 “I am weary with crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

V. 4b “many are those who would destry me,
my enemies who falsely accuse me.”

V. 15 “Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.”

V. 29 “I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.”

V. 33 “The Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.”

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.