Monday, April 18, 2011

Cleansing of Temple (Monday)

In Mark's chronology (chap. 11), Jesus enters Jerusalem on Sunday, looks around, then returns to Bethany.  On Monday, then, he returns to Jerusalem, curses a barren fig tree on the way, and then overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the temple.  Then in the evening they return to Bethany again.

The chronology of Matthew, Luke, and John is a little different, which is why we cannot be absolutely certain about what happened on which day.  In Matthew 21, Jesus seems to overturn the tables on the same day that he entered Jerusalem, in contrast to Mark.  In Mark also, Jesus curses the fig tree right before overturning the tables on Monday, and it is only on the next day, Tuesday, that they find it withered.  In Matthew, Jesus curses the tree and it withers immediately, the day after the temple action.

Luke seems to follow Matthew's chronology at this point, but does not have the story of the fig tree.  John seems to move the temple action to the first year of Jesus' ministry.  It is of course possible that Jesus did this twice, but after you have compared the gospels even a little in detail, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that they intentionally move things around from time to time.  This shouldn't be a problem for us.  It has to do with our (faulty) expectations rather than any problem on their part.

There are differing interpretations of Jesus' action in the temple.  Was Jesus angry because they were selling things in the temple?  But they had to sell things so that travelers would have something to sacrifice.  Were they selling in the wrong place?  I really don't think the relevant texts will bear this weight even though this is often said.  Was it a symbolic action, planned out and meant to symbolize God's coming judgment of Israel and even the destruction of the temple itself?  I think it is very likely that Christians read it this way, especially after the temple was destroyed.

The key to me at this point (meaning after this round of reflection ;-) is Jesus' quotation of Jeremiah 7:11: "Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?" (NRSV). The context in Jeremiah is a prediction of the temple's destruction because Israel's leaders have oppressed "the alien, the orphan, and the widow" (7:6), which fits in with Jesus' focus on the poor and powerless in his earthly ministry.

So I find the spirit of John's presentation to fit very much with a general distaste Jesus must have had for the wealthy, profiteering atmosphere he must have seen before him.  It couldn't have been disapproval of the selling per se, because that was necessary.  But the spirit of what he saw must have represented to him everything that was wrong about the values of Jerusalem.

His action was thus an indictment of the spirit of Jerusalem's leadership and a foreshadowing of coming judgment.  It is no surprise that Mark "sandwiches" the event inside the incident with the fig tree.  Just as the fig tree did not bear fruit and withered under Jesus' curse, so the Jerusalem of that day was eventually judged for its failure to bear the kind of fruit pleasing to God.

12 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Could it be that the temple "robbers" were taking advantage of those that came to worship by pillaging them for sacrifices, just as indulgences in Luther's day? these indulgences/sacrifices were considered "well pleasing to God". They were considered a "form of worship".
One can interpret this action as taking advantage of the poor, but one could also judge it as an action of taking advantage of others in the name of religion! or sabatoging another's conscience, as to thier "need" for sacrifice....No one should be about the "business" of telling another where their "sacrifice should" be, or even, if there "should be" one, in the first place!

::athada:: said...

This man was against profiteering? How could he have had such blatant disrespect for the wealth-creators of society? I think I've heard several pro-family groups speak out against such nonsense, not to mention St. Rand... ;)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

::athada,
What you have pointed out, to me, is what makes Scripture impractical. Of course, people must create business that brings/promotes "profit".

Many things that "scriptures" seem to "require" or encourage are irrational claims upon individual lives. This is why we see so many trying to "walk on water", as Peter and sinking. It becomes an expectation of the Church, or one's "in-group".

One "obeys" without thinking, as conformity is affirmed and praised, but critical inquiry or "stepping back" to assess one's life and what one desire to commit to, are not valued.

Unclear (guilty) or oversensitive consciences seem to "need" a scapegoat or sacrifice to "appease" the "gods". But, when one owns up to one's own actions, choices and values, as one has seriously considered them, then one can act out of "self respect" and not be affected by those that might differ in their convictions.

Scriptures were written within the context of ancient "group think". Such were the terms of "covenant". Group think defines the "group's" values, and opinions. And such group think forms denominations/churches. But, any group is formed by their values, just as our nation was formed by its ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals are "spelled out" in the Constitution. The Church just uses scripture as a sanction of what it believes and values. And Church denominations have "spelled out" in their "constitutions" what they value.

::athada:: said...

Angie,

Yes, a hint of truth, but I'm mostly just poking fun.

And can I say that I'm forever "confused" by your incredibly "liberal" use of quotation marks?

Con humor,
athada

Angie Van De Merwe said...

:: athada,
;-)

As to my quotation marks....sometimes I use them to "set off" a word/term that isn't necessariy defined like it is necessarily used (or the other way around). Sometimes it is used to form a concept ( I almost used it around "group think")...and sometimes I use it to "make fun of" a term....so I guess it boils down to semantics and how a term is used, understood, or meant...and sometimes it sets off a colloqualism...

For instance in my response to you; "scripture"=which scriptures are used or preferred
"require"= relative to one's conviction about scripture
"obeys"=mindless action which isn't really obedience, because it does not come from one's own value system
"need"= not in accordance to reality, but one's feelings.
ETC..I hope you get my point..



You haven't been the only one that has stated such "confusion" (your term/definition)...

JRS said...

When I studied the Mark story of the temple cleansing I found no evidence that the sellers were taking advantage of the buyers.

Jesus’ objection was misuse of the Court of the Gentiles. This was the one space in the temple for Gentiles to encounter God and they had stolen that space and turned it into a market. It was supposed to be “a house of prayer for all nations.” They were excluding the Gentiles.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

JRS
Yes, but the "outsider" will be taken advantage of by those within the "in group", this is the cause of "wars" many times...abuse of power (those in leadership) is human nature, and why we need a balance of power and accountability of leadership!

The Gentile wasn't considered 'good enough" for their space or boundary to be considered....so one did what they wanted in the "Gentile Court" (or where-ever the Gentile had a "right").

Equalization of rights (under law) has to do with natural rights/human rights. Those that are believers believe these are granted by "God", but those that are unbelievers believe that without proper government, these natural rights are not granted in reality. Does it really matter, then if one is a believer or unbeliever, as to the end of granting good government?

Ken Schenck said...

JRS, I don't think we have sufficient evidence to make an absolute determination on this question. We have to fill in the blanks as best we can. Mark's account fits best with the scenario you favor, but then again, Mark was almost certainly written for Gentile believers.

John gives the impression that Jesus opposed the buying and selling in the temple altogether. Both Matthew and Luke omit the line from the quote, "for all nations."

So given the impression of Jesus' values I take from triangulating between the gospels, it seemed more likely to me that Jesus would have found the whole money scene abhorrent in itself. This is a place for prayer, not a place to sell scarfs.

But I am open to being persuaded...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You are open to being persuaded?

Well, then, hasn't the Weselyan commitment to enoble those nations that don't have "means" thought busniess endeavors, enough to persuade you, as it is your denomination? This is where the emphasis on helping the poor can be useful to the Wesleyan who believes both in scripture and profit.

So, "the gospel" or "redemption" isn't about any spiritualized message, but a social project of reforming a nation's ability to provide for itself... if one chooses this as a value and life commitment, then, it is their choice! Isn't this why I.W.U. started "ministries" in Africa? Our nation has many non-profits and NGO's that serve these purposes.

Ken Schenck said...

I am open to persuasion on any issue...

... but as usual you have ripped my words from their context and applied them to your own interests, universalizing the particular, and shifting from one meaning of a word to another.

JRS said...

Ken,

Your observation “in the temple” is the key.

You are correct it was not a place for commerce. However, I found nothing to substantiate the claim that providing animals for sacrifice was the problem. It was location, location, location.

They made the Court of the Gentiles a den of robbers; stole the opportunity for gentiles to encounter God. So there should be no buying and selling in the temple. It’s also important to notice that they did not use a court provided for Jewish worshippers only the space for outsiders. I find that quite revealing.

Also, as I understand it, the same commercial transactions took place outside the confines of the temple. Jesus objects to what takes place in the temple. I found no evidence of objections to the practice of providing acceptable sacrifices to pilgrims traveling into Jerusalem from some distance. It seems to have been a legitimate aid to temple worship. Admittedly, this strikes us as a bit suspect. We tend to think there must be more to the story.

I do not know why Matthew and Luke omitted “for all nations.” Many times I see scholars asserting that a partial quote implies reference to the entire statement. Could that be the case here?

I also understand that the temple story in Mark needs to be interpreted in light of the fig tree cursing and withering that brackets it. The fig tree failed to do what fig trees do; provide figs. The displacement of the gentiles resulted in the temple failing to what God intended; provide an open door to gentiles. Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleaned out the temple.

There is much fascinating stuff going on in the text with much potential for contemporary application.

Ken Schenck said...

JRS, just to be clear, I was trying to walk a fine line. I was not saying that it was the selling of sacrificial animals per se but the spirit with which it was being done and the likelihood that they were selling much more than just temple related items.

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