Monday of Holy week is commonly known as “Great Monday” or "Holy Monday."
On this day, the Church remembers Jesus Cursing of the Fig tree and the Cleansing of the Temple. Join me on reflecting on what these stories might have to say to us about being the Church in 2020.
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 courts 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, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
-Mark 11:12-19 (NIV)
In these passages we get some interesting messages from Jesus about his expectations for his followers.
In his first act of prophetic theater, Jesus has this strange interaction with the fig tree. He sees a fig tree presenting in such a way as to indicate that it should be in its first harvest phase.
The tree looks alive, even from a distance it catches Jesus’ attention, lush, green, healthy looking. An attractive sight. A textbook fig tree. Exactly what you want to see.
But when he pushed back the leaves to find the fruit, … … … nothing.
It is possible for a tree, a person, a church to look like they have it all together, but when you get close something is missing.
A person, a program, or a church can look really good, really pretty, really healthy… notice that the fig tree is actually doing a lot of stuff…
seemingly on its own along a road…
it is attracting attention…
it's nice to look at…
it has a lot of leaves…
but it has missed its central purpose… it is not producing figs.
It has missed the purpose and this dictates its future…
Lets keep this idea in mind as we look at the next story known as the “cleansing of the temple.” Jesus approaches the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
Now be careful when thinking about the temple not to think of it as a church.
This is not Towne View Temple on a street corner with weekly services and sabbath school.
In the time of Jesus, The Temple is the center of the Jewish world.
It is the place where God lives, they understood God to literally rule the cosmos from that building.
If you asked a first century Jew where God was, THEY WOULD GIVE YOU AN ADDRESS.
This is the place where heaven and earth overlap.
If there was a Venn diagram of the physical and spiritual realms, the temple would be the shared space in the middle.
It was the center of the universe, the place where God met with people.
And it was beautiful.
Built on top of the temple mount plateau, about 2400 feet high, the structure itself is close to 15 stories tall. Gleaming whitewashed walls, trimmed in gold, visible for miles in every direction.
At the time of Jesus the temple had been undergoing a beautification process for several decades, and it had become one of the most incredible structures in the world, with people traveling from all over the ancient world to see its beauty and glory.
But not just anyone could go in. There were different levels of access that different types of people received. The High Priest, once a year, could enter the innermost place, the throne room of God.
The priests and Levites served in the temple and helped people worship in the inner courts.
The innermost court for normal type folks was for Jewish Men,
Then, a little farther removed, there was space for Jewish women,
Then there was the outermost court for everyone else known as “the court of the gentiles.”
This was space set aside for the outsider. The non-jew, the unclean, the broken, the sinful. The court of the gentiles was designed by God, so that those farthest away could come and find God; but here in our Gospel reading, Jesus arrives in the court of the Gentiles to find it occupied.
The place that was meant to be set aside for outsiders to come find god, and to worship, has been filled with venders, commerce, noise, crowds, and the smell of hundreds of animals.
Just like the fig tree…The temple looks alive, even from a distance it catches your attention, tall, golden, awe inspiring, full of people, sounds of worship, the smell of incense, a wonder of the world. Exactly what you want to see.
But when Jesus drew closer, he was infuriated to see that the temple, like the fig tree, only looks healthy, when in reality it has entirely missed its purpose.
The New Testament itself also contains a rich collection of images for the church
The Church should be a...
As a Family: we pursue relationships with each other, we encourage one another, We build each other up, we hold each other accountable, we treat each other like family - rather than strangers.
As a Temple: We are aware of God’s presence in this place, in each other, and in our assemblies. We recognize that we the church - not as a place but as a people - are where God has chosen to live in this world - that we have become the place where heaven and earth meet and where outsiders can come to encounter God.
As a field: we recognize that we belong to God, and that God seeks to produce good things in us. We have the potential to be the location of spiritual growth in the world, the soil in which God plants NEW things … Pastor Andrew Murch put it this way: “The Church is a site of agriculture, not archaeology” …
As the Body of Christ: we take our Christian identity and put it to work in the world, believing that we have been called to act on our faith… The Church does the work of Christ in the world, facilitating reconciliation and healing, preaching freedom and welcome, making peace, seeking Justice, standing for the weak, serving the poor, protecting the vulnerable. Telling the truth.
As the Bride of Christ: We live in direct relationship with Jesus, We are connected in covenant to Christ, and take on a completely new way of living, a new way of being human. We live in proximity and in love with Jesus, and live each day with certainty in this truth.
With this last one, I got all tied up trying to figure out how to DO it.
How to be loved,
How to be the one who Jesus died for,
How to be the one who Jesus treasures,
How to be the object of God’s unfailing love…
But it's not something you do, it's something you are, you simply have to accept it, to believe
it, to trust it…
...and if you can accept this reality, it will change everything.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Jeremy Hall