Jesus and the disciples descend from the Mount of Olives into the holy city, Jerusalem. It must have been a buoyant journey for them as the crowds ran along ahead shouting Jesus’ praises and filled in behind them secreting their hopes. It’s a bit of an odd journey as well as they move into Monday the first day of this last week. On the way into the city Jesus stops to curse a fig tree which has not borne fruit. Now some scholars believe this cursing of the fig tree represents God's judgment on the spiritually dead religious leaders of Israel. Others believe the symbolism extends to all believers, demonstrating that genuine, living faith is more than just outward religiosity. True faith must bear spiritual fruit in a person's life.
It is an interesting postcard from the road for us to look at as spring begins all around us and many of us are out in our gardens enjoying the warm rays of the sun after a bitterly cold and dark winter, casting about for the first shoots to come up, trimming deadwood here and there, perhaps moving a plant that just isn’t producing here to over there where it might, just might, bear fruit. The road to eternal life asks us to spend some time in the garden of our soul. When asked what were the marks of a healthy church the apostle Paul responded that if something was of Christ it would build up the body of Christ, the church, in other words it would bear fruit. Is the garden in which you dwell ready to bear fruit that builds up the body of Christ?
The next stop along the road is at the temple where Jesus finds the courts full of corrupt money changers. In one of the few scenes from scripture I think we see Jesus really angry here as he seeks to return the church to a place of prayer. What encroaches on your temple, what overwhelms your prayer?
Finally we find Jesus at the home of his friend Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. Perhaps hoping that Lazarus, the one person who has died and been raised again can give him some comforting words for the journey he is about to undertake, moving from life to death to life everlasting. Here we also find a link to the Old testament lesson from Isaiah appointed for this day which reads: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (Isaiah 42:1-9, NRSV)
Kingship and glory are illustrated by Isaiah as being the one in whom God delights. Here is the person who will bring justice to the nations not through warfare and oppression but by protecting the weak, opening the eyes of those who are blind, liberating those held captive.
John tells the story of the extravagant anointing of Jesus at the house of Lazarus.
Jesus uses it to foretell the anointing of his body after death - but anointing also forms part of the ceremony of crowning a king. It is here, after dinner that Mary anoints Jesus feet with costly oil and dries them, we are told with her hair, foreshadowing both Jesus upcoming burial but also the devotion of those who have and will come to believe. Did Mary know that she was anointing the king of Glory?
Today our journey with Jesus through Holy Week takes us back to the Temple in Jerusalem and then to the Mount of Olives.
On Tuesday morning, Jesus and his disciples returned to Jerusalem. They passed the withered fig tree on their way, and Jesus taught them about faith.
At the Temple, the religious leaders aggressively challenged Jesus' authority, attempting to ambush him and create an opportunity for his arrest. But Jesus evaded their traps and pronounced harsh judgment on them: "Blind guides! ... For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness...Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?" (Matthew 23:24-33) Pretty harsh judgment. Whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but filled with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. What are you filled with? I know many of us are spending a lot of time trying to be healthier these days. I began working with a trainer not long ago and was a little bit surprised that she wanted to know in detail what I ate every day, “you know it’s not just the outside we want looking good,” she said. The very same assessment is ours to take during Holy Week, lest we be whitewashed, spit and polished on the outside but in deplorable shape in the inside.
Tuesday afternoon Jesus left the city and went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives, which overlooks Jerusalem due east of the Temple. Here Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, an elaborate prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age. He taught in parables using symbolic language about end times events, including his Second Coming and the final judgment.
Scripture indicates that Tuesday was the day Judas Iscariot negotiated with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16).
After a tiring day of confrontation and warnings about the future, once again, Jesus and the disciples stayed the night in Bethany.
Where will you rest your spiritual head this night? Do you have a Bethany? For Jesus Bethany represents a place of safety, surrounded by those who know him best and understand him the most. It is a sanctuary within which to process and prepare for the days ahead. Find your place to rest from the rigors of the journey to everlasting and let the work of God, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the justice of Jesus, the anointed king fill you.
--The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis