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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 85
What pictures of Jesus did you grow up with?
In my Sunday school books, from the late 1960s, Jesus was usually fair and blue-eyed. He went around in a nightie, he cuddled little sheep and little children. He was nice to everyone and wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Sugary sweet. Maybe you grew up with similar pictures.
If you did, today’s episode from
will come as something of a shock. We are going to see a side of Jesus Mark hasn’t shown us before…
Peter had barely slept all night. How could he? His mind was a constant swirl of anticipation. He played through the previous day, Messiah fever pulsing through his veins. The adulation of the crowds. That entry on the donkey… no mistaking it, Jesus was coming to Jerusalem as its king. There was no better time for this than Passover. The city was full of pilgrims, from all round the Mediterranean. The faithful would get to see this Jesus who had so captivated Peter for three long years. The stage had been well and truly set and Peter couldn’t wait for the grand climax performance in Jerusalem.
The dawn breaks, cold and fresh. Tiredness doesn’t matter, when you are about to see all you your parents and grandparents have dreamed about, played out in front of your very eyes. A quick breakfast and the Twelve are on their way back into Jerusalem again.
Peter remembered the evening before. They had climbed the long hill up to the temple, mesmerised by the radiant red of the evening sun reflecting in the splendid gold artwork and the brilliant white walls. Jesus had an eerie mix of calmness and steely determination. As Peter looked at his master and into his eyes, Peter saw again the raw power and presence of God himself, which had routed an army of demons and stilled the storm. He remembered the old Scriptures, how the prophet had seen the glory of God leaving the temple. As his master approached the holy sanctuary, Peter had felt that glory of God coming back home where it belonged.
Peter had expected fireworks that evening, as Jesus stood in the temple. Instead, Jesus simply looked. Peter’s gaze was riveted on his master, waiting. As he waited, Peter had tried to read those eyes he knew so well. They were impenetrable that evening, even to one who knew him so well. Fireworks? Not yet. The next day, though, would be different …
Jesus led, as always, with purpose and focus. It wasn’t just his gaze. It felt like his whole being was focused again on that temple, glistening like a jewel in the early morning sun.
The dawn chorus was waking. The fresh warmth of a new day was already driving away the chill of the night and coaxing an exquisite and heady mix of scents, from the lush greenery overhanging and surrounding their path into the city. The perfume of the fruit trees, tantalised their taste buds and pricked their appetites into life. The smell of the fig trees was mouthwatering, as they savoured the sweet juiciness of fresh fruit, straight from the tree.
Jesus by now had his eyes fixed on one tree in particular. It was lush and green, its branches thick and heavy with foliage. They wafted in the gentle breeze, beckoning the passerby to come and rummage for fruity refreshment from the ever-increasing heat of the day.
It wasn’t the season when most fig trees were yielding their fruit, but this tree was sending out the message its figs had come early. Jesus gently pulls the branches and leaves apart, searching for the fruit he was now inwardly crying out for.
Nothing. A deceitful and showy invitation to come for fruit, but simply nothing there.
Jesus gazed at it. “May no-one ever eat fruit from you again.” Peter puzzled for a moment over this strange response from Jesus. This was soon forgotten though, as they set off for the temple again - and an even bigger surprise.
Before long, Jesus and the 12 were stood in the massive outer court of the temple. Thirty-five acres of space sprawled out in front of them, in all its vastness. They felt dwarfed by the overpowering architecture, lost in the bustle of the crowds, the echoes of voices, the bleating, cawing and mooing of the animals, soon to be sold and sacrificed.
Jesus simply stood and looked. Taking in the moneychangers, busily taking their rake off from the worshippers needing to buy temple currency, so they could purchase an animal to sacrifice. Clocking the traders with their sacrifices for sale, all going at a far greater price than in the marketplaces outside.
Many of the people from yesterday’s procession gathered around, full of excitement, waiting on the Messiah who had come into his temple.
Peter knew Jesus better than any of them. He looked once more into his master’s eyes. He could sense a fire smouldering. A hot indignation. He had seen this flare out and scorch the Pharisees, with withering heat, but this was scarily different. It was so powerful, so sustained, so burningly the intense. Then, it exploded…
Jesus ran at the moneychangers, as a man possessed. Overthrew the tables, bags of coins sent clattering around the court, now in total silence as the religious busyness was utterly stilled. The traders were next, their benches sent hurtling across the floor, birds flying for refuge towards the temple ceiling, frightened cattle running for the corners.
Nobody dared move; every eye was fixed on Jesus.
He was breathless, with a white hot mix of indignation and passion.
“This was meant to be a place of prayer, but you…” his fiery eyes was riveted on the open-mouthed chief priests and law teachers, “… you have turned it into a rip-off bazaar.”
Jesus poured out his heart for the temple. God had set it up as a place for prayer, even for foreigners. God wanted everyone to come, to cast their burdens on him, to pray for protection, forgiveness, blessing.
His passionate words light a fire in the hearts of all those listening. The crowd burn with desire, once again, for the miracle of praying and being heard by God. The chief priests and the law teachers burn, too - with a toxic mix of hatred and jealousy. For them his days are numbered. He has gone too far.