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Reflection - Holy Week - PM

Reflection for Holy Week

by Peter Mitchell - Reader (Lay Minister)

Let us draw near to God and to his love, and he will draw near to us.

Of all the events of Holy Week, perhaps the ones which first spring to mind are those of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But the gospels record many things which took place on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week; words and actions which had a significant bearing on future outcomes and which serve as valuable lessons about discipleship for today.

After spending Sunday night in Bethany, Jesus and his disciples return to Jerusalem on Monday and enter the temple courts where Jesus drives out traders and overturns tables, interrupting and effectively shutting down the business of the temple, not just because of what is happening in the temple but because of the injustice Jesus sees in everyday behaviour outside the temple. Jesus refers to the temple as a 'den of robbers'; we might call it a 'refuge of outlaws'.

In Mark's gospel the meaning is emphasized by framing this event with the Parable of the Fig Tree. Jesus curses and symbolically destroys the fig tree because it does not bear fruit; for the same reason he symbolically 'destroys' the temple because its people do not bear fruit. As he did by his procession into Jerusalem the previous day, Jesus is again staging a peaceful demonstration against both the violent imperial domination of the occupying Romans and the corrupt and hypocritical collaboration of Jewish leaders. The authorities are looking for a way to silence him, but Jesus has the crowd on his side, so they hold back.

Tuesday is a busy day for Jesus. As Jesus and his disciples enter the temple again, the Jewish authorities immediately question him and try to trap him, in order to discredit him in the eyes of the crowd, who still support him at this point, and to find reason to condemn him. But Jesus cleverly outwits them and turns the tables on them by embarrassing them in front of the crowd. I'd like to highlight three episodes in particular.

Jesus tells his listeners the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard. When the vineyard owner sends his slaves to collect his share of the produce, the tenants, motivated by greed, beat or kill the slaves and keep the produce for themselves. Finally the owner sends his son, who is also killed by the tenants. The owner then destroys the tenants and gives the vineyard to others. The vineyard represents Israel and God is its owner; the powerful, wealthy and corrupt amongst the Jews are the greedy tenants. The Jewish authorities recognize that they are being cast in the role of the tenants in this parable and want to arrest Jesus, but hold back because the crowd remains on Jesus' side. 

The authorities question Jesus about the legitimacy of paying taxes to Caesar; a lose-lose question for Jesus. But Jesus responds by asking the authorities to produce a Roman coin and then quoting the well-known verse, 'Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.' For many Jews, who would not carry Roman coins anyway because they bore forbidden graven images, everything belongs to God and the Jewish people are its stewards. And thus Jesus wins this encounter and delights the crowd.

After denouncing the self-serving practices of the Jewish authorities, Jesus contrasts this by drawing his disciples' attention to a widow who puts two small coins into the temple treasury. Jesus explains that others have contributed large sums out of their abundant wealth but this poor widow, who might, after all, have been tempted to give just one of her coins, has given all that she could possibly give. Unlike the Jewish authorities, the widow is not seeking her own glory nor exploiting others for her own benefit but responds to God's grace with a generosity of her own.

Tuesday continues with Jesus warning his disciples about the future destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and about the coming in glory of the Son of Man. Jesus gives his disciples signs by which they will recognize the coming end times and urges them to remain alert.

Wednesday of Holy Week sees the Jewish authorities begin to look for a less public way of arresting and killing Jesus, fearful of causing a riot among the people during the Passover festivities, which would attract unwanted attention from the Roman authorities. What the Jewish authorities need is someone who will betray Jesus to them, somewhere private, where they can deal with him without the sympathetic crowd looking on.

Mark's gospel uses the betrayal narrative to frame the main storyline, a meal to which Jesus is invited, in Bethany. During the meal, a woman (identified as Mary of Bethany in John's gospel) anoints Jesus with a whole jar of very costly ointment. There is indignation from some of the disciples, for the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus reminds them that they can show kindness to the poor whenever they wish, whereas he will soon be leaving them and the woman has taken this opportunity to show not only that she believes in Jesus but worships him; she alone appears to have understood something of Jesus' prophecies about his death and resurrection and Jesus praises her actions highly.

This woman, the most faithful of disciples, is contrasted sharply against Judas, who is shown to be the least faithful as he makes up his mind to find an opportunity to betray Jesus. The Jewish authorities now have their man on the inside; their final trap is ready to be sprung.

These events of the first half of Holy Week present a few questions which remain relevant for today's disciples of Jesus:

Are we, both individually and as a church, free from corruption and hypocrisy and do we fight peacefully for justice? Do we bear fruit and live up to our calling to be who God wants us to be?

Are we good stewards of God's creation and do we give to God what is God's?

Do we give selflessly, generously and joyfully, sharing what God has graciously given us and healing divisions between rich and poor?

Do we remain alert, wary of being led astray, prepared for Jesus' return? Do we recognize the signs of God's work in the world and act to support it?

Do we love God with our whole selves and remain faithful to him?

Do we welcome Jesus into our lives and accept the discomfort he brings as he challenges us to change in ways we might not have anticipated and might not want? 

Can we set aside the love of status, tradition, institutions and opinions of others which might prevent us from responding fully to Jesus?

Father, forgive me the times when I have betrayed the trust of others. Help me to be loyal and trustworthy and not to follow my own agenda but to go where you would have me travel.

David Walker