Lent 3 – the conflicts of the Tuesday of Holy Week

When you are working through the events of the final week of Jesus’s life one day at a time it works quite nicely when there is one event on the day – like the Sunday and the Monday

When you get to the Tuesday it is another story altogether.

Almost 3 chapters in Mark are devoted to the events of Tuesday – more than any other day

So we aren’t going to work through all of the events of the Tuesday –  though I really encourage you to read all of them

Instead, we are looking at a few sections that give an insight and a feel into the day.

The vast majority of Tuesday is a series of conflicts with the Temple authorities. It is a series of debates and arguments – much around Jesus’ authority.

Clearly the event of Sunday and Monday have had an impact. When Jesus enters Jerusalem for the 3rd time in 3 days  there is anticipation as to what is next.   The crowd is there as are the Temple leaders

and straight away they challenge him about his authority Early in the conversation Jesus takes the initiative: he tells a story about a vineyard and its tenants, and way the tenants kills the owner’s heir

Within the gospel of Mark’s purpose the reason for the story is quite clear. In fact Mark has the authorities own it – “they realised that he had told this against them”.

The battle lines are clear now:    Jesus is openly confronting the leaders he has prophetically and symbolically denounced. But just as much as they want to arrest him, the crowd do not.   The crowd is on Jesus side.

And so now if the Temple authorities are going to get their way, they need to turn the crowd. “Then they sent to him some Pharisees and Herodians to trap him in what he said”

And we have the confrontation about taxes and the coin.

Not surprisingly, Jesus isn’t looking to make a statement  about the separation of Church and state in 21st century democratic systems.

He is not trying to lay a foundation for how the church can back dictators or monarchs He is not trying to set a principle for Christians to obey a government no matter what

The conversation is around a volatile question trying to trap Jesus and discredit him. The trap is very skilfully set:  if says ‘no’ to the taxes he is open to a charge of sedition          if that’s the case, the Romans will get him!

If he says yes to taxes, he is alienated from the crowd,           who are the reason why the Temple authorities cant arrest him.

But his response is better. He gets the authorities to produce a coin.   And as soon as they do, they are trapped.

While many good Jews would not carry a coin which state that Caesar is the Son of God, they do.

They have alienated themselves.

And then his response – give to Caesar things that are Caesar’s & to God things that are God’s asks that his listeners – and Mark’s readers – what is Caesar’s and what is God’s

Seeing we’ve just had a parable of the vineyard, the question is raised about the very land:  And Scripture affirms that the land of Israel belongs to God

And to go further, Psalm 24 makes it clearer “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”

What belongs to Caesar?    Well by implication out of scripture – nothing!

The conversation / debate continues –  realistically with passages that don’t really make a lot of sense to us We need to understand much of the conversations of the Tuesday as being about who Jesus is and not really about the detailed topic of each element

And so by the time it gets to the climax of the debate – Mark 12:28-34 –  we may have the feeling that all f the religious elite are hard hearted and unthinking.

But the climax conversation is without confrontation or conflict. Which commandment is the first of all?   What is central?

And Jesus obliges with an answer. We know the answer well – love God and love neighbour.   (2 for the price of 1!) But it is a radical statement.

If The Lord is ONE and we are to love God with EVERYTHING we are,  then what does that mean for the powers that proclaim Caesar is God or those who are collaborating, and so giving part of themselves to God and part to Caesar.

And to tie in the concept of loving neighbour as yourself  means that distinctions between people and their inherent worth or value must disappear

The scribe affirms Jesus teaching and adds a striking comment: “This is much more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices” .

The scribe himself reinforces Mark’s point from the previous two days –  the way that we live matters much more than the religiousity of the Temple.

And so it is in this context and setting that we have one more bit of confrontation Jesus now takes the initiative to warn against the authorities. “Beware the scribes – who like to walk around getting respect and honour. They devour widows houses and then say long prayers”

And right on the back of that he watches the offering taking place – and sees a widow. Scripture continually places widows as special objects of God’s compassion: they were the most vulnerable of people in that society,  and therefore the way they are treated was a measure of the society’s justice

There certainly is an element in the story of affirming the deep devotion of the widow. She is the positive image of discipleship. She has rendered unto God the things that are God’s – everything.

But there is also a condemnation of the wealthy.

Those who have given out of their abundance – and therefore held plenty back –  must sit awkwardly in our minds with the earlier stories from Tuesday still fresh.

It’s an interesting passage  given the confrontations in our own public sphere over the past fortnight about what and how some of Australia’s most wealthy are contributing at the moment.

The conversations, debates and confrontations of Tuesday invite us this Lent to think about priorities and authority.

How seriously do we take the way of Jesus? How is it that we juggle the demands of Caesar and the demands of God? Tuesday is a confronting day – for us as much as the scribes and Pharisees.

It is a day which does not invite compromise in living.   It is an awkward day for us.

I encourage us to wrestle with these thoughts this day and throughout Lent

God, forgive me for whenever we  limit your influence in our lives to personal spiritual matters and separate them from the rest of life. Help us to infuse the compassion of Jesus  in our character, politics, business, consumption, and relationships. May we honestly affirm that everything is yours and nothing belongs to the empire.

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