Summary: Jesus actions in the temple demonstrate that we have a responsibility to reach out and not just to make things comfortable for ourselves.
The story we read today is an interesting one. It’s one that doesn’t really fit with the picture of Jesus that we usually think about. How does a loving Jesus, who goes around teaching good morals, fit with this violent figure who disrupts a market place, stops temple worship and causes chaos. If we read the similar or same story in the gospel of John which we will be doing on Wednesday we find Jesus making a big whip that he uses to drive the people out of the temple. For most people it just doesn’t fit but it’s just an anomaly. It’s like that last card on the solitaire pile that tells us we’ve made a mistake somewhere and we’re going to have to start again. One story amongst many that we can just leave to the side hoping that at some point someone will explain to us how this fits with the Jesus we know. Except they don’t. You see its not the small innocent story that we might think it is. It is one of the climaxes of Mark, it occurs at the start of Holy week, right after palm Sunday. It is one of a very few stories about Jesus that are found in all the gospels. John, as we will see on Wednesday, uses it as an introduction a story to set the tone, mood and message of what is too come. It is the crucial event which directly leads to Jesus’ death.
In science it is often the small things that cause a paradigm shift. That causes us to abandon our old models of looking at things and have to reconstruct new ones. In the middle of the 19th century physicists thought they had it all figured out, there was actually talk about the death of physics we knew all the basic equations all that was left was engineering for people to make machines using the equations that had already been found. There were just a couple of very minor experiments that remained to be explained, nothing big scale or anything just a few loose ends to tie up. One experiment was shining a light on metal released electrons – not so revolution but the speed with which electrons were released and whether it appeared at all was determined not by the intensity of the light but by the colour. However, this loose end led to the complete abandonment of the old theories as accurate descriptions of the universe and to the the theories of quantum mechanics. To Jesus original disciples this was not precisely this, if you look at the story of Jesus it has all been building up to this moment on the way to the cross. But to us that have this idea of gentle Jesus meek and mild, this serves as that kind of paradigm shifting moment that makes us sit up and ask whether we have the right model after all.
What was Jesus really all about. Yes, he was all about love, but not a wishy washy kind that likes to not think about problems, avoid the issues and hope they will go away. This is a Jesus which sees the problem and is going to do whatever it takes to fix the problem. And in this case the temple is the problem and Jesus is dealing with it. When we actually understand what Jesus was doing it is even more brutal and stark that what it appears in the first place.
So what was Jesus doing in the temple. The surrounding stories, comments and Jesus’ quotation or allusion to the Old Testament are there to give us a clue to let us know what is going on.
Clue 1 we have the story of the fig tree. Again considered in isolation this is a bizarre story. Jesus sees a a fig tree and sees it has no figs so he curses it and it dies. Why, it was not the time of year for figs. The tree had leaves on it which was right for the time of year, why did Jesus curse it. Because he wanted to make it absolutely clear that his disciples understood what was going on in what he did in the temple. You see it wasn’t just that Jesus cursed it, it was that it withered as well. Jesus was giving an object lesson about fruitfulness. Unless something was going to produce the fruit it was supposed to it was going to be destroyed.
Clue 2 when Jesus speaks about what he is doing in the temple he does so by using two quotations from the Old Testament. One from Isaiah and one from Jeremiah. The first is from Isaiah 56:6-8. This speaks about the temple being used not just for Israel but for the whole world. Then we have a quotation from Jeremiah chapter 7 where God complains that his people are not living a godly lifestyle and are worshiping other gods but they believe that God will save them because they have the temple and make sacrifices their. God tells them that this is not the case. If they do not repent then he will destroy the temple.