by Lisa Caine
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?
Tuesday is the longest day in Mark’s remembrance of Jesus’ final week. So, if length is a criterion of importance, Tuesday must be a pretty important day. It is a day of confrontation by the priests and scribes, threatened by Jesus’ audacious move on Monday to close down the money changers and chase away the sellers of doves. It is a day when they try to recapture their dignity and authority, which were badly undermined by both Jesus’ actions and his words.
I keep a “to do” list every day; maybe you do too. And it’s always frustrating when interruptions prevent us from even accomplishing one item from the list. We may not know what Jesus had on his “to do” list that Tuesday; we many never know the reasons Jesus had for returning to the Temple because he didn’t have a chance to do anything before he was immediately confronted by those in power asking their most pressing question – “By what authority do you do these things?” Powerful people expect and demand that the chain of command be upheld. Jesus hadn’t consulted them or sought their approval; he hadn’t worked within the system to ask for what he wanted. He had not recognized or respected their authority. He’d disrupted the business of the temple.
So Jesus spends the day in conversation and confrontation with people who don’t like him, who are afraid of him, who don’t trust him, and who are looking for ways to trap and trick him into answers that will alienate the crowds of people who see in Jesus a savior, a light in the darkness of their hopeless lives.
What an exhausting and difficult day it must have been. But Jesus doesn’t get anxious or defensive; he doesn’t become obnoxious; and he doesn’t run away. It is hard when people ask you questions, not because they want to learn things, but because they want to see if you think the same way they do. They want to see if they can trick you into some kind of position that they can then attack. They’re not looking for an honest answer to an honest question; they’re not seeking truth, or a better understanding, or the opportunity for open-ended dialog. They don’t want to know because they already know; they want to know if you know what they know.
Finally, after much verbal sparring, Jesus is asked “Which commandment is first of all?” and Jesus responds immediately, straight out of Deuteronomy and then Leviticus: “The first is, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And then the scribe repeats the great commandment that he has just heard from Jesus, with this significant addition, “This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And Jesus, with compassion affirms this momentary epiphany, and adds, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
There are two powerful messages for us in Jesus’ last Tuesday – first, love of and loyalty to God and neighbor comes before everything else, before our love and loyalty to anyone or anything else, before all the ways in which we seek to protect ourselves and insure our status and control. And second, when we can listen to each other carefully, without becoming anxious or argumentative; when we can stay in an uncomfortable conversation without becoming defensive, when we can become more interested in the truth than in protecting our position, there is the opportunity for grace and for friendship, and in that moment we are not far from the Kingdom of God.
It was on Tuesday
It was on Tuesday that they let him have it.
They wanted to know why
and they wanted to know how.
They were the respectable men, the influential men, the establishment.
The questions they asked ranged from silly speculations about whether you would be a bigamist in heaven if you’d married twice on earth,
to what was the central rule of civilized behavior.
They knew the answers,
or so they thought,
Otherwise they would never have asked the questions.
And like most of us,
They were looking for an argument,
Looking to justify themselves,
With no intention of a change of heart.
So he flailed them with his tongue . . .
Those who tried to look interested,
But never wanted to be committed.
And that was on Tuesday;
The day when he let them –