Authoritative Upheaval

Read Mark 11:15-19

The passage chosen for today is filled with many interesting details. This is also a passage which many people can relate to since Jesus displays the emotion of anger which everyone deals with frequently. The scene which unfolds creates a dynamic in regard to necessary customs, authority, and greed.

The custom of the time when this scene plays out is that after centuries of the Hebrew people offering sacrifices as delineated in the scriptures of Moses, the availability of needed sacrificial animals and offerings was reduced. A shift from a purely agrarian lifestyle to a mix of tradespeople, merchants and farmers had taken place. Jesus, himself, was not of an agricultural or merchant background but was part of a family that plied the trade of carpentry. This led to the custom of people purchasing the necessary elements for sacrifices from merchants in the temple courts. In addition, outside the temple the people had to use the currency of the occupying Romans while in the temple, conly the Hebrew currency was allowed. This necessitated someone to make the conversion of currency. Why then was Jesus so upset?

The issue for Jesus is that some of the merchants and money exchangers were profiting large sums from there necessary services. In addition the high amounts, the poor utilized these services at a disproportionately higher level than the wealthy because they needed approved sacrificial elements more often. For Jesus, this taking advantage of the poor stood in sharp contrast to God’s instructions.

Observing the responses of the chief priests, teachers, and the people indicate that an issue of authority is playing out here. Jesus is seen by the chief priests and teachers as a threat to their authority. His apparent upheaval of long-standing customs is evidence of his devised attacks upon them. The people, however, see the matter differently. They are amazed at the authority which is inherent in his teaching. Jesus connects actions and words in a consistent way which is not what they have witnessed from the leadership of others. This gives him authority  in their viewpoint.

Another interesting aspect is the timing of this outburst on Jesus’s part. It appears that this scene occurs during Jesus’s final visit to Jerusalem prior to his arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Could the overturning of the merchant and money exchanger tables be a foreshadowing of the overturning of the whole sacrificial system which Jesus’s death will bring about? Jesus will become the final and fully sufficient sacrifice for the redemption of humanity. After his crucifixion, there will no longer be a need for these merchants and money exchangers in the temple courts. The temple will truly become a place of prayer and worship.

Our takeaway from this passage could be three-fold. The first is to not use necessity to line one’s pockets, especially at the cost of the less fortunate. Second, the connection between words and actions gives us a better perception of true authority.  Third, remember the all-sufficient sacrifice has been made in Jesus Christ. You are fully redeemed and no sacrifice on your part is demanded any longer.

No Facade

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:1-12 (NIV)

If you have ever had the privilege of being behind the set of a stage play, a television show, or a movie, you know that most times what the audience sees is a facade. The intention is to assist the performers in transporting the audience to a specific setting for the scene. These facades can look very real. Today’s use of digital enhancements in television shows and movies make it seem even more real. Some people create facades in their lives to generate an image of their choosing as perceived by others. Maintaining these facades can require a lot of energy and be very time consuming.

In today’s reading, God expresses displeasure with the facade which they people have created. They have presented an image in which they humble themselves and deny themselves for a brief period of time. This is done in an effort to win God’s favor. Yet their other behaviors during and after the set time are not congruent with the self-sacrificing humility which they are attempting to present. The Lord describes the behaviors which are pleasing, caring for others and fighting for the oppressed. God is not fooled because the people’s true nature is found in their non-religious actions.

Sadly, we can be like the people of Israel to whom God speaks in this passage. We can go through the motions as prescribed by our faith traditions but the rest of our actions do not align. The fake notion that by adhering to a spiritual practice or rite will win us favor in God’s eyes is still prevalent in many faith communities.

God reminds us that our spiritual practices are only beneficial if they point us towards a wholeness in our living. If they remind us of the importance of caring for others and working to improve the lives of others, then they have purpose. By following a spiritual practice we may renew our energy to fight injustice and oppression. The way we treat others can be changed through our spiritual practices. This is what the Lord desires. These practices are for us, not the Lord.

As we approach the season of Lent soon, a time to renew or begin spiritual practices, may we not create a facade to please the Lord or others. Instead, may we allow these to change our lives and our behaviors.