Cleansing the Temple

In the last blog, we had a good laugh at a most bizarre scene where Jesus curses a fig tree. We wondered if Mark was trying to set up a message, and if so, this next story would be what it’s aimed at. So let’s look at Mark 11:15-19 and see how it might connect with the cursing of a fig tree.

So, Jesus goes to the temple. The pretty standard behavior for a Jewish visitor to Jerusalem. However, Jesus began to, “drive out” people who were buying and selling in the temple courts. He flipped over tables and chairs of the stalls, and wouldn’t let anyone take their purchased goods through the temple. I would like to point out that in this early version, there is no whip, no mention of anger, and Jesus has time to gather and teach people, which doesn’t suggest rage or other out of control emotions.

From the sounds of it, the temple had basically become a marketplace. Jesus’ problem with this is his understanding of scripture. Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7, “I will make them happy in the temple where people pray to me… My temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray.”

Thus, Jesus, approaching the temple, anticipated a place of prayer and Godly devotion, but instead found a marketplace. Not only that, but the passage specifically mentions selling doves. Doves were the lowest possible offering and would have been primarily used by those people who couldn’t use anything else, as established in Torah. In this way, the temple was forcing people to pay for that which was meant for people who did not have anything else. It’s demanding something precisely where Scripture had intended for something to be free. It’s injustice.

This injustice is further supported by Jesus’ second OT reference, Jeremiah 7. “Do you think this temple I have claimed as my own is to be a hideout for robbers? You had better take note! I have seen for myself what you have done! says the LordSo, go to the place in Shiloh where I allowed myself to be worshiped in the early days. See what I did to it because of the wicked things my people Israel did.”

It’s a threat, that God knows the wrongs being committed in His temple, and if they do not repent, they will be destroyed.

Image result for Jesus teaches at temple

Shock of all shocks, those individuals who were profiting from the marketplace at the temple, the priests, and scribes, decided that Jesus should die because he was messing up their sweet operation. This was Jesus’ plan all along. He knew it was going to upset those in power, and what the result would be. He warned us many times.

As for the relation to the fig tree, I see the title of the next section also involves it so I will wait until next time to discuss it.

Grace and Peace to you all.

Foundation

ImageSo, the foundation of a new Christianity has been laid, incorporating both ancient concepts from Pelagius and Job, to more recent relational theologians like Larry Shelton.

Okay, you might say, but if I didn’t quite dig deep enough to understand the core of the foundation you’ve laid here, what exactly is it you are trying to say, and what makes it so different from the Christianity I find in church every Sunday?

Excellent question! First, the foundation of all Christian moral activity in the world is love. Not the love that appears in popular movies or trashy novels, but the love of God as he reveals to us in others and in Jesus Christ. This love is so deep and so viscerally understood as unconditional in all of us, that I feel safe claiming that God is not only love, but unconditional love. This is not to say that unconditional love is clear in scripture, but rather that unconditional love is clear within each of us. We know what is true and right about God, and when anything other than unconditional love occurs, we know that something isn’t right about it.

If God is unconditional love, there are some basic assumptions that the church has made about original sin, and about sin and general that don’t quite fit that paradigm. For instance, why would a God who loves unconditionally create a world, and indeed His children, so that they were temporarily perfect, only to live the remainder of their existence regretting and mourning that they could never be again? This seems well outside of the realm of love, let alone unconditional love.

What story does fit then? That is the first three entries of this blog, the story of how God loved us so much that He created a world in which we could choose to reject Him. When we did so, He honored that choice, but we, in defense, blamed Him, and created a story which blames Him. There is plenty of historical proof, indeed history itself, that those who survive will blame those who cannot or will not refute the blame. Ancient humans were no different.

This idea that we are unfit, horrible, depraved, wrong, broken, etc. beings has drilled into our brains for so long that we have forgotten what it means to be beloved, exalted, chosen, anointed, and blessed. We have come to believe that we are so disgusting that nothing can save us; not ourselves, apparently not even God, despite what scripture says to the contrary, because we continue to act as if God has done nothing for us, not forgiven us, not claimed us, and not created us. Are you beginning to see how these things are in contest with each other?

One last point before I move onto the next difference. If God is as powerful as we can possibly imagine. As graceful, good, perfect, and just; why do we have such a hard time accepting that maybe; just maybe, he created us in an image that He can be proud of, from the beginning, and for eternity? Proud does not mean happy with, it does not mean approving of; it means proud of our ability to choose, love, laugh, and live. Yes, we can make mistakes, yes we can hurt others, but if we were incapable of doing these things, would we be any better than furniture? Don’t you think God knows all of this? And yet still, here we are, in the world, being loved, no matter what we do. Reality should trump imagination. The reality is, this is who we are, loved. Once we can accept this our perception of life changes, the nature of scripture changes, and who God is changes. You are perfectly imperfect, exactly as God made you, and that is very good.

Well, that sounds all nice and comforting there, emotional even, but what about scripture? Surely you can see there is an angry God, killing God, threatening God, etc. This is where the story of Job comes in, and what it was trying to say, and what it tells us about the ancient Hebrew way of life…

The Seed of Rebellion

Image“I just can’t take it anymore Aliza, I haven’t done anything wrong and they know it.”

“But honey, you must have, you know that’s the way God works. He doesn’t punish us unless we’ve done something wrong. If we have faith, He will be faithful to us.”

“What are you talking about? You’ve been with me! You know I love God and have done nothing that would displease Him!”

“Well I haven’t been with you all the time, so clearly during one of those times you must have done something.”

“No! Stop! I won’t listen to this from you too, of all people, my beloved. I know plenty of good people whose children have died of sickness, and God Himself knows there are horrible men who live up on the hill closer to the temple doors! I mean, they spit at us!”

“I know, but they have a right to because they are more beloved by God than us, that’s what the temple teaches, that’s what our history teaches us.”

“No! I refuse to believe it! I’ve tolerated it up until now because I had no reason to doubt it, or more like it never affected me directly, but I won’t stand for it anymore, I’m going to prove it to them if it’s the last thing I do.

“Now, it can’t be simply me ranting and raving at the city gates, the people in power would just throw me in jail for being a false prophet.”

“Wait… now you’re a prophet!? Honey, what has gotten into you? Just listen to yourself! This is crazy, just go to the temple and sacrifice some doves for forgiveness…”

“Forgiveness!? Forgiveness for what!? I. Haven’t. Done. Anything. Wrong. This is what I’ve been trying to tell you. Why won’t you believe me? No, I have to do something, I have to prove that I’m innocent, and I have to convince everyone that this whole system of good deeds and bad deeds just isn’t realistic. I know it’s what our ancestors taught us, but how long can we hold onto something that is simply, and blatantly, wrong?”

“But it’s not wrong, they always discover something in the person’s life to justify why God punished them.”

“That’s crap and you know it. They make this stuff up. You knew Levana, she was you’re friend, do you really believe that she cheated on her husband!?”

“Well… she didn’t seem like the type, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t!”

“Ugh! Come on! I have to think of something, some way to change the way people view God or we are all going to end up in exile or worse!”

“Oh, so now you do believe that if we don’t follow your understanding of God, something bad will happen!?”

“No… well that is how I meant it, but dangit it’s so hard to stop thinking that way. What I mean is that we must be falling further and further from God, because I refuse to believe this is how He acts toward us, His beloved children.

“No, no, no… I need something… something big enough to turn heads, but not so easy to track to me, or to get rid of…

“Wait… I think I have something… I’ll write something, it’ll be perfect. No one will know who wrote it, so they can’t just get rid of it, and if I make enough copies of it, they won’t be able to suppress them all. Yes!”

“WHAT!? Do you have any idea how expensive writing is? The parchment alone would cost us a week’s worth of food!? I swear if you do this I’m leaving you, I’ll go live with mother; this is insane. You sinned, just admit it, and don’t ruin our lives!”

“My life is already ruined! According to the temple God hates me for something I didn’t do! What could be worse than that!?”

“AARGH!! I give up! Do what you want, squander our livelihood! But don’t bring me down with you! I’m out of here!”

“Fine! Whatever, it won’t matter in the end anyway. Once she reads it, once everyone sees the truth they’ll all come back apologizing to me. Now, I have to find someone who can write and who won’t just run to the temple and snitch on me…”

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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­It’s a little known fact that the Jewish theological concept of retributive justice was ever questioned. It’s more commonly known today as “the prosperity gospel” as it focuses more on the rewards of behaving, rather than on the punishments of misbehaving. The writer of Job wrote it in protest against such theology, hoping to change forever the way that the world viewed God, but it didn’t have quite the impact they were hoping for. People today still hold it, but they stopped reading the Old Testament through its lense. It makes all the difference, and it allows us to reconcile the seeming contradictions between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the God of Jesus Christ. Simply wait and see.