When Justice Cries Out – Where Do we Stand?
(Or, Caught Between the Rock and a Hard Place)
After the march into town, the lampooning, song-filled parade that took the mickey out of Rome and Pilate, Jesus went out into the villages. He spent the night resting, renewing, praying, eating and being with people – people who were gentle and struggling, the ones he came to release from bondage and pain. He sat and listened, learned and laughed but deep in his heart was the week he was in. The choices he made culminated in this holy week where he would bring to a head the choice of the world. He would sing God’s song of vulnerable love before a world torn by power, greed and lust. He would offer the alternate vision of God, the dream at the heart of Big Bang’s explosion of love and a universe expanding to become.
In the morning of this second day of the week, he walked into town for the next action he’d make. On the way a strange scene unfolded, a metaphorical, parabolic story filled with meaning for those with ears and eyes to see and hear. It gave meaning and sense to the prophetic action ahead in the Temple.
Jesus came upon a fig tree, alone and forlorn in the pre-Spring months of rest. It had closed down for the winter to quietly regenerate within but Jesus wanted fruit and there was nothing to be found. Why did he expect fruit on a tree out of season? Why did he not know? Or did he? He cursed the tree, cursed full and deep – ‘No fruit, no life, be cursed you fruitless tree!’ The disciples watched on bewildered and not daring to state the obvious. Had he lost his marbles? Was the march yesterday the last signs of a mind that had crossed the mysterious line from sensibility through eccentricity to a lingering place of madness? Was it time to call in the men in white coats and end this spiralling farce? Cursing a winter fig tree for not bearing fruit?
Onwards and upwards he marched with intent and force, decisive and in control. They followed along, questioning and wondering where they were headed and what he would do. All the talk of death and rising played in their minds. Was he still on this Messianic trip? Or was it a true Messianic trip that would do something profound and bring in the glory they silently yearned for – to be part of a great thing wrought by God in the world? The great Divine clean-up of a world gone astray with injustice and hatred, greed and suffering – surely it was time for God to act! Isn’t this what he was really saying? But madness, surely all the great ones had some madness meandering through their minds or they would be but normal people. Don’t the big ones all have egos that grow into something huge and carry them onto the big stage, self-belief and a sense of Divine legitimation? Didn’t Jesus speak in such ways at times? Can’t we see in him the signs of greatness, of self-belief and of Divine appointment? Surely this course is about a new world order, God-ordained and triumphant over the forces of evil (of Rome), finally and ultimately arrived – isn’t it?
With these thoughts echoing through their minds and into the epochs of human life and experience, we wonder. What was Jesus really on about? Is he madman or God or something between? Is he lost in obsession or issues back there and what is the relevance of his story to us, here and now? Do we ponder it through ‘rose-coloured stained glass windows’ and delight in this one who’ll release us from the evil and take us to heaven? Do we read the story unseeing, unhearing, not fathoming the depth of his wrestling spirit as he made his way through this week of action in and for God’s way in the world? So let us proceed with cautious intent to the Temple…
He waltzed into the Temple, a grand and profound structure, the apple in the eye of the Mediterranean scene, a temple to rival any in the known world. Herod the great had expanded this Temple by around 500 metres long and 300 metres wide across hillside and dale. Carving out and filling in until it was a remarkable and beautiful structure that drew pilgrims and tourists from afar. The Temple was awesome in the truest sense, majestic and powerful and filled with God – it was God’s home. To stand in such a holy place before the Holy God was an act of deep worship and humility. It called out of pilgrims a confession of faith of who God was and of their need of grace. They worshipped and praised this Holy God through offering sacrifices of thanks and praise. They offered in gratitude for God’s forgiveness bestowed in this place of holiness Divine.
The Temple so holy also became the civic centre of power control. High priests and leaders were head-hunted by Rome and asked to control the people throughout the land, to collect taxation and pay tribute to Rome. Their exalted place would remain in place provided their loyalty to Emperor and Empire was strong. Echoes here of ‘Bow down and worship me and I will give you power over all the world.’ What was it Jesus said? ‘You shall worship God alone!’ Unjust ways entered Temple life and the poor remained before the Temple eyes. A poor woman gives everything she has, her last coin to the Temple – to God or Rome, who will get it? Who has demanded it? The poor, poor, poor (people that is), deceived but believing that these ways are of God. Is it something they’ve done that keeps them struggling poor? Did they or their parents or their parent’s parents… sin, and the curse flows through into life and struggle and hopeless estate?
Jesus entered the Temple this day with intent and a distracted look on his face. Was he there to worship and pray, to stand before God and claim his place as the Davidic King come to stand once again before the enemies of God and Reign over the land? He didn’t bow and prostrate himself or even feel the wonder; he drew down deep and felt his anger. It raged up and out and he cleared the place – well the money-changers and animal-sellers in the outer courts. He shouted and claimed this place was God’s but they’d made it a place of injustice and pain, dealing in violent, oppressive ways that kept people locked up in poverty and hopeless despair. They came to pray and heard the song of Temple leaders caught between a rock and a hard place – wanting their power and wealth but dealing with Rome, compromised faith to preserve the status quo, the all-important status quo (of course, the status quo favoured the few!). This house of prayer and devotion was tainted with injustice and compromise. Hadn’t the prophets explosive speech called for justice and compassion, mercy and love? Didn’t they say, time and again, that God wants justice not worship divine and sacrifices rich because when they are couched in unjust ways, they stink to high heaven!!
‘I want your hearts, pure in love. I want just and fair leaders who seek well-being and common good, ruling for all in my Holy Name. I don’t want nice sacrifice and pompous legalism. I don’t want ceremony and strict rules all proper and good – I want JUSTICE! That’s how I created the world!!’ God doesn’t mince words when there’s someone who’ll offer their mouth as a mouthpiece. Trouble is, too many offer the mouth and the words and put words into God’s mouth that would never be uttered if they shut up and listened and heard the truth. Jesus called it a den of robbers, a place of injustice where robbers hid away. It was not a place of robbery but the den where robbers took refuge and legitimated their tyranny of injustice.
He cleared the place and created chaos! On one hand, looking back it was pretty amusing. Animals suddenly released; goats and lambs running and bleating all over the place. Birds flew free, pigeons and doves cooing and swooping in gay abandon in the Temple courts. People diving for money that rolled and slid across the ground. They grasped and fought for all there was, shouting, accusing and wanting their take. Others wanted to restore order and set broken tables aright, put chairs into place and restore what was – metaphorically and literally.
This was an action, not against the people who changed money and sold animals. It was an action born out of God’s heart that grew through the words of prophets and found fulfilment in Jesus’ radical action. His words and actions made the point, clear and profound – this isn’t what God is on about! ‘Do you get it??’
Things were escalating out of control. What was he doing? Yesterday the lampooning march. Today a radical action that attacked the unjust collaboration of Jewish leaders with the Roman oppressive system – over the people. This was playing with dynamite and his claims of death and dying were growing more probable. What was he doing? He seems to be claiming that God’s Reign has come and that God wants to take back Jerusalem and the Temple for the purposes of justice and as a place of prayer for all people, a refuge for the poor and marginalised, the impoverished of body, mind and spirit to find healing and community, food and shelter and acceptance into the heart of God. What could be a better vision, richer dream, or a more lovely song?
What could be a more threatening, horrific song to those in control and who rule the space, dominated people and lived well?
Do something this week that opens your mind and being to wonder and look for the sacred in the ordinary, little things of life.
Some Questions to help you Reflect…
- As you read through the passage of Mark’s Story what parts of the story leaped out at you? Are there any parts that you want to explore more or that speak fresh thoughts to you?
- What in the reflection made you feel positive, hopeful – what was good for you?
What in the reflection caused you concern, anxiety or confusion – what was less good to/for you?
- Do you have any curiosity questions’ questions of wonder you might explore?
- What next for you?