Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Good morning and happy Palm Sunday! This is a most unusual time.
Our Scripture text for today takes place in a most unusual time. Palm Sunday was a “once and for all time” event. My prayer is that Covid 19 is also.
Jesus knew exactly what would happen to Him in Jerusalem. It is one thing to experience tragedy when that tragedy is unexpected. It is something else to know the potential for tragedy and still move forward into dangerous territory.
Every day medical personnel, police, firefighters, EMTs and others go to work knowing they may people treat with Covid 19. They go to work knowing they might be exposed to the virus.
May God bless you and yours. God will see us through Covid 19. Goodbye and have a blessed Palm Sunday.
~Pastor Jeff Lowe
Today’s scripture comes from Mark 11:15-18.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as He taught them He said, “Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer of all nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.”
Jesus cleansed the Temple of those practicing sacrilegious buying and selling in the outer courts of the Temple in Jerusalem because he cared about the Gentiles who could only worship in the Temple’s outer courts. Nor would he allow those who were carrying merchandise through these outer courts. This was also condemned by other rabbis because these people were using the outer courts as a shortcut from one side of the massive Temple complex to another side.
Now the merchants who were buying and selling in the Temple had two arguments for doing business within the sacred grounds of the Temple. First, they were providing a service. Money for offerings in the Temple had to be in Jewish shekels, which were always in short supply. Animals dedicated as sacrifices in the Temple had to be unblemished. It was hard to rear an unblemished sheep and harder still to have your own sheep declared “unblemished” by one of the priests. In other words, the system was rigged.
Second, some scholars have recently proposed that the “business licenses” for these merchants where granted by the Temple’s High Priests, who received a cut from every purchase. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.
Today we have mega churches which have their own coffee shops, so that no one has to miss their morning latte. Many seek to replicate a Starbucks atmosphere. Some of these churches have dynamic outreach ministries to those who are homeless or marginally housed. How many of these churches invite the homeless to their suburban campuses for a latte and a muffin? None that I know of. Most of us want to help those in need, but we don’t want to get too close to them. The homeless often smell bad (you try taking a good bath in the sink of a park’s public restroom, and then put your dirty clothes back on, because you have no others, and see how you smell.)
I don’t know a single homeless person who said when they were a child, “I want to be homeless when I grow up.”
What does this have to do with the Temple of Jesus’ time? At that time not only were Gentiles limited the outer courtyards, but so were Jews who were beggars, lame, disfigured, menstruating, etc. Often the poor couldn’t afford to follow the 613 laws, decrees, and commands recorded in the Hebrew Bible. So, as ritually unclean Jews, they could only worship in the outer courtyards.
To be poor in America today, and especially here in Georgia, the deck is completely stacked against you. Need a place to stay and you don’t have the first and last month’s rent as a deposit? What if you can’t pay the deposits for your utilities? Often people have no other choice but to live in one of the extended stay hotels. Often these “hotels” cost $200-250 a week. Try to pay that with your paycheck from McDonalds. Oh yes, and that’s the paycheck that you cashed at the local liquor store because you don’t have a checking account at a bank and the liquor store takes a lower percentage of the check than the “Get Your Cash Here” places.
To be poor in America today means you don’t have the privilege to work from home or shelter in place. Your livelihood depends on your paycheck and you have no other choice but to go to work. And your chances of catching Covid 19 are much, much higher than mine while I shelter in my suburban home.
What about those living in homeless shelters? The shelters are packed with people with no where else to stay. Social distancing is impossible. All the things I take from granted, a soft bed, my own shower, a clothes washer and dryer, etc., are luxuries that someone living in a shelter cannot afford.
Jesus never forgot the poor, widows, aliens or strangers (non-Jews), or children. He calls us to minister to anyone who needs help. Our church, as small as it is (50 on a good Sunday), provides non-perishables and Kroger gift cards for those who come to our Food Pantry. Are these band aids? Of course. But, better a band aid than an open wound.
And that $1250 stimulus check? Forget it if you are too poor to file a tax return, or, heaven forbid, if you are undocumented and being paid under the table. Even those who are in the country legally and are employed and pay federal and state taxes, but aren’t not citizens and don’t, therefore have a Social Security card. Guess what? You pay taxes, but you don’t receive the $1250 because you’re not a citizen.
Jesus cast out the dishonest merchants from the Temple. I wonder what Jesus thinks about the way we treat our neighbors in need here in the richest country on earth.
May God forgive me for the “lattes” of my life.
Please use Holy Week as an opportunity to take your fears about Covid 19 and shelve them away for a little while and think about the poor in our country.
~Pastor Jeff Lowe