Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mark, Chapter 11: Jesus the horse-thief

Some prophet predicted that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a colt, so he steals one. People make a carpet of clothes and branches for him to ride on, and dance around him. He rides the colt up to the temple, takes a tour, then heads for his inn.

Now, unfortunately for Jesus, his hotel is on the Mount of Olives. If you've ever been there, you know that it's a food desert because it's in Arab East Jerusalem and it's nearly impossible for anyone to get planning permission for a balcony, let alone a restaurant. Anyway, Jesus is hungry, but his hotel doesn't do breakfast, so he tries to pick some figs from a nearby fig tree. But it isn't fig-picking time, so there aren't any. So he does the natural thing, at least for a person with low blood sugar, and curses the tree, thus making it even harder to find something to eat up there.

He continues on his merry way back to the temple, where his bad mood causes him to throw out the money-changers and dove sellers, calling it a den of thieves (v. 17). He forbids all commercial activity in the temple.

Now, as we established back in Exodus and Leviticus, the priests have a pretty good business going in the temples, what with their exclusive rights to sacrifice animals and sell things like tassels for your garments and tefillins and whatnot, a tradition that churches have kept up, first with indulgences and now with coffee shops, book stores and souvenir stands. And like anyone whose livelihood is being threatened by a crazy guy killing fig trees, the priests are none too happy with our boy and start trying to figure out how to get rid of him.

Meanwhile, Jesus heads back up the Mount of Olives. On the way, they pass by the fig tree, now withered. Jesus tells the disciples that they can have anything they ask for, even moving a mountain into the sea, as long as they pray for it. He reminds them to forgive, or god won't forgive them.

Not yet bored with the temple, Jesus heads back down there the next day. The priests have figured out their strategy, which is to ask him whose authority he is acting under. Jesus refuses to answer until they answer a question for him: the baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? (v. 30) The priests huddle up and decide that if they answer it was divine, Jesus will point out that they didn't believe it. But if they say it was of men, then they have the people to contend with, because they sure believed it. So they decline to answer. As does Jesus.

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