It’s the Last week of Jesus’ life and Tuesday was a long day – or at least a lot happened that day. But let’s quickly review what has already happened.
On Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey to the cheers of peasants yelling, Hosanna while waving Palm branches. On the other side of town Pontius Pilate also rode into Jerusalem, on a chariot or a great horse headed toward his palace located inside the Temple walls. There would have been horns blowing and much fanfare to announce his arrival.
On Monday, Jesus headed back to the Temple and cursed a fig tree on the way because while in full leaf, had no fruit. At the Temple, Jesus caused a ruckus – overturning tables and chairs and chasing people out. He was troubled that the Temple, like the fig tree, looked good but was bearing no fruit. The Temple was not full of the Spirit of God.
So much happened on Tuesday that it takes up part of chapter 11 and all of 12 and 13 so I invite you to follow along in your pew Bibles as we go over the highlights beginning in Chapter 11, verse 20 when on Tuesday and Jesus and his disciples headed back to the Temple.
“In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered.” Jesus tells the disciples to have faith in God and to believe in their hearts. “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” AND “Whenever you stand praying, forgive…; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive your trespasses.”
Then at the Temple, the faith leaders began to question Jesus and his authority. They asked about the legitimacy of John the Baptist but Jesus turned the question back to them, evading their trap and making them look foolish.
Jesus took the initiative at the beginning of chapter 12 and told a parable about a vineyard where the owner sent servants and then his beloved son to collect his share of the produce. The tenants kill all of them, even his son. When Jesus finished telling the parable the faith leaders realized it was directed at them – and they wanted to arrest him but feared the crowd.
In verse 13, Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Rome. Referring to a Roman coin, Jesus said, “Whose head is this and whose title?… Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus’ last words here are most important, Give to God the things that are God’s. Since the whole earth and all that is in it belong to God, what is Caesar’s? —
In verse 18, faith leaders, called the Sadducees, pulled another trick from their sleeve. They gave a scenario of a woman who survived 7 husbands asking, “In the resurrection whose wife will she be?” Knowing that the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, Jesus explained that they will not be married but like angels and added that God is the God not of the dead, but of the living. The talk and worry about who will be married in heaven is not God’s primary concern, kingdom work is not about life after death but about life in this world, then and now.
Verse 28 is a conversation between Jesus and a Scribe about the greatest commandment – Love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself.
In Verse 35, Jesus questions the teaching of the Scribes about the Messiah as the Son of David and then sat by the collection plate as the widow gave to the Temple treasury all she had while everyone else gave out of their abundance.
In Chapter 13 Jesus and the Disciples finally left the Temple. Jesus said that not one stone of the Temple would remain. So Peter, James, John and Andrew inquire about when that would happen and what would the signs be?
In verse 5, Jesus answered and gave what scholars call the little apocalypse which continues for 32 verses – the longest of Jesus’ discourses in the gospel of Mark. He said People will be led astray, family will turn against each other, Christians will be arrested and beaten, nations will go to war, the sun will be dark, and the angels will go out to gather the faithful. But about the hour or day, no one knows except God so keep alert – keep awake! Tuesday ended on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem as they all headed back to Bethany for the night.
As you all know, we hosted a student from Hong Kong for almost 2 weeks. We knew that at least one student was Christian but we did not know if Carrie would be Christian or Buddhist or what? But we quickly learned that Carrie had never stepped foot inside a church, had never worshipped in a Temple or Mosque or anyplace. But after her first Sunday with us, she told me that she very much wanted to come back. While she could not understand much of Gary’s accent in Sunday school, she really enjoyed worship. Her favorite parts were the singing and the Children’s Sermon. She could not follow the English of the prayers, liturgy or the sermon except to pick out a few words here and there. But during communion, she must have heard the words “body and blood.” When the communion bread was passed, she took one and ate it. But when the communion juice was passed, she took a cup and smelled it. She had a look on her face that told my mom that she thought it might be blood. So thankfully, Mom leaned over and told her that it is juice and okay to drink – which she did. On the way to church that morning, I gave her a very quick overview of who Jesus was and our faith. I told her some of what to expect during the worship service, but I failed to mention our ritual of The Lord’s Supper. Later, I talked some more about Jesus and I gave her a Bible to take home. She told me that she knew about Christianity from movies which I am not sure is a bad thing but it also may not be a good thing. Carrie often walks past a church in Hong Kong but has never gone inside. I encouraged her to go inside and check it out. But honestly, after Carrie left, I wondered how much she understood about Jesus and I questioned whether or not I said the right things or did Jesus justice.
Tuesday, I stopped by a café to have a late lunch and check emails. At the table right next to mine was a man and woman. They seemed to be trying to get to know each other. He asked her where she lived and she told him, describing at length how she paid more for her condo that it was worth because she loved it so much. She described all the windows and the view. I was not trying to hear their conversation but they were sitting very close and were talking quite loudly and I was not. Then the man asked her a question I did not catch. She answered, “I am not religious, but I am spiritual.” He asked what she meant. She said that while she does not go to church regularly, Jesus is her guy – he is my bud, she said. She also talked for a bit about Saint Francis of Assisi. But then got back to Jesus. She said Jesus got her through some tough times, that she always knows he has her back and is with her all the time. She said she is not embarrassed to say it, because Jesus means so much to her – she loves him. “Jesus is my bud,” she ended. I wanted to give her a high five or at least thank her for bold faith, but I decided that they might think I was overstepping my bounds, intruding on their conversation, so I just gave thanks in a prayer. My heart truly warmed as I heard this woman so boldly express her love for Jesus. She was not necessarily trying to convince her friend of anything, she was simply expressing her love for Jesus – she was sharing her heart. It was so real.
This week I also went to the funeral of my college roommate’s mother. The pastor, who obviously loved the deceased, wanted to make the point that he was certain my friend’s mother is in heaven now and questioned whether or not we could say the same about ourselves. I know he had good intentions, but it did not feel like his heart was in it. I looked around the room as I left and wondered if anyone was convinced to get right with the Lord or to even learn more about Jesus– but I doubt it. It felt as if he was going through the motions, not expressing his love for Jesus.
On Tuesday of his Last Week, Jesus was tested over and over by faith leaders who wanted to catch him in some heresy. But in the midst of all the opposition, one Scribe stepped up who was impressed by Jesus.
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
The Scribe was fascinated and captivated by Jesus and his answers. The Scribe gave Jesus what we might call a softball question. It was not so much a test as a confirmation of what the Scribe already believed Jesus would say and about who Jesus was. And hearing Jesus’ answer, he added, this is much more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. This is the heart of the faith, this is what God is all about. This was why Jesus rode into town on a donkey. This was why Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and chased out those selling animals. The heart and passion of the faith was not being practiced. People were going through the motions of worship, but they were not loving God with their whole selves, hearts, minds, souls and strength.
“What commandment is first of all,” asked the Scribe.
We all need an elevator speech about our faith, because someone may ask us over lunch, or after a funeral, or we may spend time with someone who has never been to church, let alone heard about Jesus.
After overhearing the woman in the café share her love for Jesus with a friend, I realized it is not so much what words you say, as the feeling that is behind those words. “Jesus is my bud,” are not eloquent words that tell the story of Jesus or really tell me anything about Christ, but that woman’s love and passion was so evident that it even had an effect on the pastor at the next table!
May it be so with me! May it be so with you!