The Corridor: April 2009

The Corridor

We are a church community committed to having an incarnational presence in the Washington/Baltimore Corridor.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Mark 13

Mark 13 may give us the best window into Mark’s audience and perhaps explains why our oldest gospel account was likely written. Most scholars agree that Mark was written during the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 AD). This context should give us an appreciation for Mark’s gospel as we start to understand the political tensions that were at play. During this time of violent persecution many of the original disciples of Jesus and Apostles were being martyred, the loss of these eyewitness "authorities" created the need for another, reliable "authority," such as a written account.

The Way of Jesus that Mark promotes as he recounts the events of Jesus’ life was never more relevant and perhaps also as difficult to walk in. In Chapter 13 Mark uses the teachings of Jesus to encouraging his community not to participate in the rebel's revolt. The "false prophets" are those zealots who claim that their victory over Rome will usher in the new age. Mark makes it clear that the war is not a sign of the end, but only of the beginning, of “birth pangs”.

Mark warns about those who claim to be the messiah or perhaps Jesus himself in order to recruit those to join in the revolution and engage in war. Mark’s warning about those claiming to be Jesus and leading believers astray provides yet another reason why he may have felt a written, permanent account of Jesus was needed to preserve what was true about Jesus.

These were indeed difficult times, it was becoming apparent that war would destroy much of what they new, it was not hard to imagine the imminent destruction of the temple that Jesus foretold, or perhaps the temple was already destroyed depending on when exactly Mark was written.

Ched Myers writes in “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus” concerning the opening of Chapter 13:

“The fact that the parties of the revolt are never mentioned by name in the
Gospel may indicate that Mark felt deeply sympathetic to their protest against
the social, political, and economic oppression of the Romans. On the other hand,
the fact that Mark feels a need to reject the claims of the rebel recruiters
suggests that members of Mark's community may well have already been drafted
into the liberation war, or were sorely tempted to join. Who could resist the
pull of patriotism, or the lure of the hope that here at last was the
long-deferred prophetic promise of that final battle in which Yahweh would
vindicate Israel? In such a moment, there was only one voice that could match
the persuasive call of the rebel recruiters: Jesus the living teacher. So to
this Jesus the disciples turn in a direct plea for clarity on the meaning of the
historical moment. [p. 330]”

Today’s reading reminds us just how the gospel calls for a revolutionary change on one hand, yet the Jesus revolution can not be won with a sword.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mark 11:12-33

Today is the day after Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, as we have been following along in this story in the book of Mark. Chapter 11:12-33, tells the story of Jesus returning the next day to Jerusalem to visit the temple. On his way he finds a fig tree, and after finding no fruit on that tree he curses it. Arriving at the temple Jesus proceeds to cast out the money changers.

If Jesus entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey was meant to contrast his Way of peace with that of one who would enter on a warhorse, Jesus entrance into the temple the next day would contrast the activity of the religious elite with Isaiah’s vision for Israel.

Yesterday the crowds who shouted “Hosanna” in desperation for a savior, even if they misunderstood the kind of messiah Jesus would be, were rural peasants, and not the religious elite that lived a different life in the city of Jerusalem. These peasants are those who had cut palms “from the fields”, and acclaimed Jesus as king and messiah knowing that they are on the bottom and they need a savior. By contrast, Jesus’ first interaction with the city’s inhabitants of the religious elite is to drive the moneychangers from the temple in the immediate aftermath of his symbolically cursing the “fruitlessness” of the fig tree.

The moneychangers exchanged Roman money for the local shekels, required as a temple gift based on the OT law. They were not merely conducting business, but they were also extorting the captive crowds. The doves were for offerings for the poor, and the merchants charged excessive prices. This took place in the area known as the "Court of the Gentiles" or "Nations", the only place where foreigners were allowed. This adds even more meaning to what Jesus quoted in Isaiah when he referred to the temple as meant for a "house of prayer for all nations."

While the Jewish peasants may have misunderstood the way of the messiah, the religious elite had sold out this dream of the Prophets for their own benefit. They had made an unholy alliance with Caesar, exchanging their responsibility to that guide others in the Way and the Prayer of the Prophets for an agreement that they would help subdue and control the crowds for Caesar. These religious elite benefited from an evil system that oppressed their own poor, and milked whatever was left by charging excessive prices in order to participate in religious practices.

Leaving the scene on their way back, the disciples noticed that the fig tree had dried up and died. This represented how the religious leadership in Israel had no fruit and dried up and died in its ability to produce any. The religious leaders and systems in Jerusalem were not going to bring about God’s dream as expressed through the Prophets for a Way and Prayer so big it could house all the nations and reconcile us all to one another and to God.

All seemed lost at this pronouncement, yet Jesus reminded them that with God all things are possible. Mountains can indeed be moved; the dream for such a large global reconciliation is not dead. But we only begin to enter that dream and make it a reality when we believe enough ourselves to forgive others as God forgives us.

This all leads directly into the conflict with the temple with the chief priests, scribes and elders, who demand to know by what authority Jesus is doing these things. Those on the margins recognize God’s presence in Jesus (”Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”); those at the center of power with only an interest in controlling others for their own benefits can only see Jesus as godless.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday

Today is “Palm Sunday”, the day of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. This was an incredibly political event, as it took place while Jews were coming into Jerusalem to begin preparations of the Passover. It was politically charged activity even before Jesus got there because Passover was the celebration of God’s deliverance from and oppressive ruler and an oppressive nation.

Hope was wrapped up in this story for a “new exodus” ever since the Jews had been exiled in Babylon and Jewish prophets began to dream of this “new exodus”. By the end of the O.T. the Jews were able to return home, but under the occupation of the Persian Empire. Though they did better under the Persians (rebuilt temple ect) with the rise of Greek culture, and then Rome, they had not been able to rise to self rule and a place of power as they once had under the “glory days” of King David.

It was in this volatile environment of their Roman occupation during Passover that made it common place for Jews to wave palm branches during this holiday as a symbol of their desire for a revolution. It was in this environment that Jesus entered the city, already rumored to be the Messiah, it made sense based on these hopes that he would become the focal point of their Passover demonstrations.

Some historians point out, that that it was common for Pontius Pilate to also to come to Jerusalem during Passover and other Jewish holidays. He would come around this time of year riding on a warhorse along with soldiers showing a military presence in order to remind the Jews just where they stood; and how futile a revolution would be against their military might. The Jews were desperate for another David to topple their Goliath.

Though it was prophesied in Zechariah that their King would come to them riding on a donkey, and that is just what Jesus did, the crowds still likely saw Jesus ridding into Jerusalem on a war horse. Yet Jesus’ revolution represented a different kind of Kingdom and the entry into a different kind of triumph. It was a Kingdom of God triumph in the Way of peace, which turned upside down what we tend to think as triumph according to the way of Caesar.

As we gathered as a community earlier this evening and reflected on this story, we made crosses from palms. I could not help but to appreciate the symbolism of what we were doing. Here we were taking this ancient revolutionary symbol of the palm leaf, which represents a dream of conquering enemies, and turns it into a symbol about a Way that is so committed to peace and solidarity that it is willing to die for enemies. This parade of extreme contrasts, even if most were blind to them, was beautifully played out the day Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey.