Wednesday of Holy Week

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Mark 12:41-44; 13:1-2
(fresh translation)

Jesus sat down across from the temple’s collection boxes.
He watched the crowd depositing money into the boxes.
Many people of means deposited large sums.

Then a poor widow came and dropped in two coins,
which together were worth one quadrans.*

Jesus called his disciples over to him and said:
“That poor widow has donated more than everyone else.
Everyone else donated what they had left over after their spending.
But she, in her poverty, donated everything she had to live on.”

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him,
“Teacher, look at it! The stonework, the construction—it’s amazing!”

Jesus said to him:
“You see all this? It will be leveled to the ground.
Not one stone will be left standing on another.”


* quadrans: the Roman coin with the smallest value


Reflection:

In the Gospel of Mark, these are the last words Jesus speaks in the Temple. He appears to be leaving the Temple for the last time in his life.

In modern Bibles, there’s a chapter break between the story of the widow’s mite and Jesus’s prophecy of the Temple’s destruction. As a result, we usually read these passages separately, not together. But there’s no break in the original Greek text. And when I read them together, the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction adds a new layer of meaning for me to the story of the widow’s mite.

Jesus says that the widow’s tiny donation is more praiseworthy than the great sums donated by the wealthy because she gave out of her poverty. Simple enough—the concept, I mean. In another sense, of course, this saying of Jesus’s is deeply challenging, particularly for a person like me, who, while I think of myself as average by my nation’s economic standards, is very wealthy by global standards. Am I really giving as much as I could be? Am I living as simply as I could be in order to increase my capacity to give?

But here’s the additional layer of meaning that I didn’t see until today, when I read the prophesy of the Temple’s destruction as a continuation of the story of the widow’s mite: Jesus lauds the widow’s sacrificial donation to the Temple, knowing that the Temple is going to be leveled to the ground.

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Photo by Kevin Tuck

What if I knew, with certainty, that an earthquake will utterly demolish the Temple at Independence? Would I give money for the Temple’s upkeep between now and then? Or what if I knew that within a generation Community of Christ will collapse financially and cease to exist? Would I still give this institution my time, talents, and treasure? Or would I shift my giving to another institution that I thought was more stable, more likely to endure? I would seriously consider the latter.

This isn’t just a hypothetical thought exercise for me. I want very much to believe that I am making some kind of enduring difference. I need to believe that I am contributing to decisive change in the world: abolishing poverty, ending war, saving the planet. Otherwise, I’m susceptible to despair—to feeling, “What’s the point?” I understand that every human life is of great worth, even though fleeting, and therefore every act of kindness, however small, performed for any person is worthwhile. But I want to be doing more than performing small, fleeting acts of kindness in a world that’s sliding irreversibly into a black hole of misery. I want to know I’m helping to bring about the Millennium.

Jesus, as portrayed in today’s Gospel passage, doesn’t seem to see things that way. If I had been in the Temple that day, knowing what Jesus knew, I would have stopped the widow and said, “Don’t donate those coins to the Temple. Give them to a beggar—that will do more good.” Jesus, however, sees something inherently praiseworthy—supremely praiseworthy—in the widow’s giving, even if she’s giving to a cause that may not mean anything in the long run. I’m not ready to sign onto that point of view entirely, but I sense there’s something I should learn from it.

About this Lenten reflection

Tuesday of Holy Week

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Mark 11:27; 12:13, 28-34
(excerpted; fresh translation)

Jesus and his disciples went again to Jerusalem.
As he was walking in the temple,
the religious authorities approached him.
They wanted to lure him into saying something that would trap him.

One scholar asked him,
“Which is the first—the most important—of all the commandments?”

Jesus answered,
“The first of the commandments is this:
‘Listen, Israel! We have one God!
Love your God with all your heart,
all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength!’ *

This is the second commandment:
‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ **

No other commandment is greater than these two.”


* Deuteronomy 6:4-5

** Leviticus 19:18


Reflection:

According to the chronology in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus returns to the Temple yet again on Tuesday. While he is in the Temple, the religious authorities—who, after Monday’s protest, fear Jesus’s influence on the people—pose various questions, hoping to lure him into saying something incriminating. One of these is the famous question about whether to pay taxes to Caesar. A scholar who is impressed by Jesus’s answers to his opponents’ “gotcha” questions then asks him, apparently sincerely, which is the greatest commandment.

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Artwork by Michel D’Anastasio. The Hebrew calligraphy is from the verse that Jesus quotes as the first commandment.

God—

I have taken you to be my only God.
I have vowed to love you with all my heart.
I have vowed to be faithful to you.
I have vowed not to pursue rival loves.

You have asked me to live my love for you
by directing it toward my neighbor—
always treating other people as lovingly
as I would treat them if they were me.

Am I faithful to God—and, by extension, to my neighbor? In one sense, no, because I don’t devote myself to God’s work as wholeheartedly as I should or give to other people as generously as I should. That’s why I’m a sinner and always will be, as long as I live.

But is there another sense in which I can say, yes, I am faithful to God—and therefore also to my neighbor—in the same way that I can say, yes, I am faithful to my husband? I don’t love my husband as wholeheartedly and generously as I should; but I am committed to him exclusively. I organize my life around him, and rearrange my life for him, in ways I do not do for anyone else.

If that’s the model for thinking about my love of God, which I express through love of neighbor—in what ways do I organize or rearrange my life around other people’s needs?

About this Lenten reflection

Monday of Holy Week

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Mark 11:12-18; Matthew 21:14
(excerpted; fresh translation)

The next day, they went from Bethany back to Jerusalem.
Jesus went into the temple
and began throwing out everyone who was buying and selling there.
He knocked over the money-changers’ tables and the dove-sellers’ stations.

Then he preached:
“The scriptures say, ‘My house will be a house of prayer for all peoples.’ *
But you have turned it into a bandits’ lair!”

The religious authorities heard what he said.
They were afraid of him,
because his preaching had struck fear into the crowd;
so they began looking for a way to eliminate him.

While Jesus was in the temple,
people who were blind and crippled came to him,
and he healed them.


* Jesus is quoting Isaiah 56:7


weston_cleansing_the_temple_sm

Painting by Jeffrey Weston

Reflection:

Jesus was outraged by what he saw yesterday when he visited the Temple. Today, he has returned to make a statement, to stage a protest, to cause trouble.

He isn’t trying to make change by working within the system. He isn’t respectfully petitioning the authorities. It’s questionable whether this protest can be called nonviolent.

This incident is what gets him killed.

Jesus objects to what he sees as the desecration of the Temple. What should be “a house of prayer for all peoples” (I remember that passage—it was last Wednesday’s reflection) has become “a bandits’ lair.” Apparently Jesus feels that the merchants and money-changers are fleecing worshipers. The Temple has become a profit-making enterprise. Jesus regards this as a perversion of his religion, and he will not stand for it. He launches what activists call a “direct action”—it might be dubbed “Occupy the Temple”—in which he clears out the buying and selling and takes over the space for doing truly sacred work: preaching and healing.

Jesus—

I’m going to pray a prayer of anger. I’m going to voice feelings of outrage that I believe you share too.

I am outraged by the ways my religion is perverted by people who do things in your name that I am sure you do not approve—specifically . . . . . . . . . .

I am outraged by the ways my fellow human beings are hurt, or diminished, or neglected, or terrorized, or exploited, or destroyed—specifically . . . . . . . . . .

I am outraged by the ways your creation, and your creatures, are damaged, or abused, or commodified for profit-making instead of being lovingly stewarded for the benefit of all in need—specifically . . . . . . . . . .

What can I do about it?
What risks am I willing to take to do something about it?

About this Lenten reflection

Palm Sunday

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Psalm 122:1-4
(excerpted; fresh translation)

A song for people on pilgrimage to Jerusalem:

How happy I was when they said to me:
“Come with us to the house of God!”
And now here we are, Jerusalem,
standing inside your gates!

Here is where the tribes—God’s people—
come to give him thanks,
in keeping with the law he gave to Israel.

Mark 11:1-11
(excerpted; fresh translation)

As they approached Jerusalem,
they came to Bethany, near the Mount of Olives.
Two of Jesus’s disciples brought a colt to him, and he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road in front of him,
or laid down branches cut from the fields.

People paraded before and after him, shouting:
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

He entered Jerusalem and went to the temple.
By the time he had looked around at everything, it was late,
so he returned to Bethany to spend the night.

Reflection:

Jesus spends the last few days of his life in Jerusalem, as a pilgrim. He arrives as one of many, many pilgrims who have traveled to Jerusalem, in some cases from distant countries, to celebrate the Passover. More specifically, the pilgrims’ destination is the Temple, where the lamb for the Passover meal is to be sacrificed.

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Photo by beloy

Jesus—

On this Palm Sunday,
I imagine that I am part of the parade accompanying you into Jerusalem.
We are a large crowd.
You are up ahead of me, riding on the colt.
As I follow, I catch glimpses of the back of your head.

I wave my palm branch and shout with the rest:
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

We are parading into Jerusalem.
We are ascending the slope up to the Temple Mount.
We are following you to the house of God—
which is your house, for you are God with us.
You accompany us on our pilgrimage,
and you are the destination of our pilgrimage.

I am following Jesus up the mount toward the Temple in Jerusalem.
I am following Jesus up the hill that leads to the Kirtland Temple.
I am following Jesus up the hill that leads to the Temple at Independence.
I am following Jesus up the Worshiper’s Path that leads into the sanctuary of the Independence Temple.

I wave my palm branch and shout the words used at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple:
“Hosanna! Hosanna! To God and the Lamb! Amen and amen!”

About this Lenten reflection

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Theme: A people of the Temple offer welcome to all

Doctrine and Covenants 161:3a-c
(excerpted; fresh rendering)

Open your hearts.
Feel the yearnings of your fellow human beings
who are lonely, despised, afraid, neglected, unloved.
Reach out to them in understanding and clasp their hands.
Invite everyone to share in the blessings
of community created in the name of Christ, who suffered for all.

Do not be afraid of one another.
Respect each life journey, even in its brokenness.
Listen.

Be patient with one another,
for creating sacred community—
the kind of loving community to which each of you is called—
is arduous, even painful.

Reflection:

Tomorrow, Holy Week begins. I will join with Christians around the world in remembering Jesus’s suffering and death, followed by the joy of his resurrection.

On this eve of Holy Week, today’s passage from Doctrine and Covenants 161 reminds me that because Christ “suffered for all,” a community that bears Christ’s name must act out of concern for all. We must reach out to everyone, including:

  • people who are lonely.
  • people who are despised.
  • people who are afraid.
  • people who are neglected.
  • people who are unloved.
  • people whose lives are broken.
  • people with whom we feel impatient.
  • people of whom we feel afraid.

In the name of Christ, who suffered for all,
we reach out to all who suffer.

In the name of Christ, who suffered for all,
we undertake the painful, arduous task
of creating a community where all are loved.

When have I felt the pain,
or the struggle,
or the impatience,
or the fear,
involved in that task?

About this Lenten reflection