Week of 8 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  A Model of the Temple Complex in Jerusalem During the Time of Jesus

Jesus vs. the Temple System

MARCH 4, 2011


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

Let us now praise famous men,

the fathers of our people in their generations;

to them the Lord assigned great glory,

his majestic greatness from of old.

Some held sway over kingdoms

and gained renown by their might.

Others were far-seeing counsellors

who spoke out with prophetic power.

Some guided the people by their deliberations

and by their knowledge of the nation’s law,

giving instruction from their fund of wisdom.

Some were composers of music;

some were writers of poetry.

Others were endowed with wealth and strength,

living at ease in their homes.

All those won glory in their own generation

and were the pride of their times.

Some there are who have left behind them a name

to be commemorated in story.

Others are unremembered;

they have perished as though they had never existed,

as though they had never been born;

so too it was with their children after them.

But not so our forefathers, men true to their faith,

whose virtuous deeds have not been forgotten.

Their prosperity is handed on to their descendants,

their inheritance to future generations.

Through him their children are within the covenants–

the whole race of their descendants.

Their line will endure for all time;

their glory will never die.

Their bodies are buried in peace

and their name lives for ever.

Nations will tell of their wisdom,

and the assembled people will sing their praise.

Psalm 149:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallulujah!

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker;

let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3 Let them praise his Name in the dance;

let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people

and adorns the poor with victory.

5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;

let them be joyful on their beds.

Mark 11:11-26 (Revised English Bible):

(Note:  Mark 11:1-10 tells of Jesus borrowing a colt and entering Jerusalem.)

He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.  He looked round at everything; then, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

On the following day, as they left Bethany, he felt hungry, and, noticing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it.  But when he reached it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs.  He said to the tree, “May no one ever again eat fruit from you!”  And his disciples were listening.

So they came to Jerusalem, and he went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold there.  He upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dealers in pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry goods through the temple court.  Then he began to teach them, and said,

Does not scripture say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”?

The chief priests and the scribes heard of this and looked for a way to bring about his death; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.

Early next morning, as they passed by, they saw that the fig tree had withered from the roots up; and Peter, recalling what had happened, said to him,

Rabbi, look, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.

Jesus answered them,

Have faith in God.  Truly I tell you:  if anyone says to this mountain, “Be lifted from your place and hurled into the sea,” and has no inward doubts, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  I tell you, then, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.

And when you stand praying, if you have a grievance against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive the wrongs you have done.


The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The Temple system benefited the wealthy and provided professional religious people with a comfortable living.  Temple taxes, paid mostly by those who could not afford them yet who acted out of community pressure and what they understood as piety (because that is how their religious leaders defined it) paid temple taxes and purchased sacrificial animals.  But they had to convert their Roman currency, which bore the image of the Emperor and the Latin words for “Divine Caesar” before they bought such sacrificial animals as pigeons.  Each Roman coin was an idol.  And the money changers were turning a nice profit, as was the chief priest.  It was religious racketeering, and Jesus confronted it.

And we have an odd two-part story about Jesus cursing a fig tree for not producing figs out of season.  The account from the Gospel of Matthew repeats this story, but not the out of season detail.  This is a difficult story, and it does not cast Jesus in a positive light.  The best I can offer, after reading commentaries, is that the poor fig tree is a stand-in for the Temple system, for the accounts of the fig tree are set amid condemnations of that system.

Jesus does propose an alternative, however.  We can pray to God without spending needless money on currency conversion and on sacrificial pigeons.  But…there is always a but…we need to forgive others, for there exists a link between our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us.  Jesus raises the bar again.

This hits me where it hurts.  I had a hell of a time (Yes, it was that bad.)  at the Department of History, The University of Georgia, during the sixteen months of my doctoral program.  I can think of the names of three professors, including my major professor, whom I need to forgive.  And, to this day, I harbor some negative emotions toward the entire university.  They are less prominent than they used to be, but they persist.  Forgiveness is hard, especially when one is the aggrieved party.  But it is possible, by grace.  It is only possible by grace.  And I am convinced that is a process much of the time.  [Update: Those negative emotions washed out of my system years ago.  I would not have been human had I not had such emotions, but I would have been foolish not to drop that burden years ago.–2017]

God knows that we are “but dust,” yet holds us to certain standards.  Fortunately, the two sides of that sentence exist in balance.  This, however, does not absolve any of us from doing our spiritual part.  Jesus has shown us the way; may we follow him.  That, too, is a process.





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