The Last Week, Part 2 (part 1 here)
Last week I covered events of what today is called Palm Sunday. This week I am moving on to Monday. Before writing this post I read three things: Chapter 2, the passage in Mark and my blog post from 2011 on this material.
I am now considering deleting that post. I actually said that Jesus was having a temper tantrum. Still, it’s interesting to see where I was four years ago.
I’ve found the study to be valuable so far because it shows, for possibly the first time in my life, how all the events of the week are linked and what the underlying themes of the week are. Two big themes are emerging: resistance to the domination system and restoring justice.
Let me summarize the events of Monday as reported in the gospel of Mark:
1. Jesus curses a fig tree (yes a fig tree).
2. Jesus raises a ruckus in the temple.
3. He preaches and the people love him.
4. He preaches and the temple authorities try to figure a way to kill Jesus.
Serious over simplification, but I’ve only got one blog post here.
So the fig tree needs a little explanation. Here’s the deal – Jesus is walking into town, feels hungry and goes to a fig tree to see if it has any figs to eat. The gospel says and everyone living at the time this was written would know that at that time of year, a fig tree would have no fruit. Still, Jesus is reported as saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
Why is he doing this?
Because, it wasn’t intended to be interpreted as a single event. The incident needs to be viewed as part of a series of incidents each informing the other. The writer of Mark often used what Borg and Crossan refer to as, “Markan Frames.” Their explanation on page 32 says it well, “Mark’s gospel often contains pairs of incidents that are intended to be interpreted in light of one another. In the narrative sequence they vibrate together, each reflecting meaning upon the other.”
The fig tree is seen before Jesus enters the temple and again on Tuesday morning when he returns to the city – the next thing that happens in Mark’s gospel. On the return to the city, we find the tree dead – right down to it’s roots. The story of the fig tree frames the story of Jesus in the temple and adds a layer of meaning to the events in the temple. But I’ll come back to that in a bit.
The next action Jesus takes is to walk into the temple and start throwing people out – a little protest. He stops people walking in and out, throws out the money changers and animal sellers. Then he starts preaching and part of what he says is, “… you have made it a den of robbers.” For a very long time I assumed that Jesus was referring to the money changers and animal sellers as being the robbers, but as Borg and Crossan point out this phrase is used intentionally by Jesus and likely refers to an older part of the Bible where the prophet Jeremiah is sent by God to block the entrance to the temple and gives God’s accusation. Here is the text from Jeremiah 7:5-7,11:
“If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever … Has this house, which is call by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” )
You could paraphrase this to something like, “unless you mend your ways and take of the orphan, widow, etc, God will not be with you and this temple will be a den of robbers.”
This is something Jesus does all the time – refers to other texts in the Bible to make his point. And for me is another example of where the Bible needs to be read intertextually – that is you have to read not only the part about Monday in the temple but also all the texts that are being referred too, in this case Jeremiah. We do this all the time in daily speech and writing as a shortcut in conversation. For example, I could speak of someone’s fifth amendment rights, but that only would make sense to someone who knew what the fifth amendment was.
In the time of this story, the people of the temple would understand that the phrase, “den of robbers,” referred to older stories and that Jesus was accusing the temple of being unjust and therefore bringing God’s displeasure. It should be noted that the Jewish people had a deep sense of justice and being called unjust was akin to being called evil.
Add that to the fig tree story frame around the temple incident and you end up with Jesus accusing the temple of being made up of unjust robbers and then calling for its and their destruction.
The general person in the street likely would have liked to be rid of the oppression of Rome as enforced by temple authorities so they liked Jesus’ message.
However, the priests and scribes didn’t like it for a couple of reasons: they benefited from the domination system and likely in any fall of the temple they’d be the first to be killed. So of course they were looking for a way to stop Jesus.
Till next week when we see what Tuesday brings,