Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
His love endures forever.
Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter,
And give thanks to the Lord.
We will give You thanks, for You have answered us;
You have become our salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
It has always intrigued me, how can one Sunday, Palm Sunday, we are celebrating Jesus triumphant arrival in Jerusalem (blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord) and the next weekend is Easter with Jesus’s betrayal by Judas, by the crowd in front of Pontius Pilate and his death and then his resurrection on Easter Sunday. How can the masses move from thinking that Jesus is the Messiah to wanting him crucified in such a short space of time. This shows us how us humans are fickle and easily swayed in our thinking and are normally driven by our selfish desires. We can see this demonstrated in any general election campaign.
In wanting to try and understand this transition I looked at the Gospels, especially at the journey from The Triumphal Entry to the Last Supper.
Three of the Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke have quite a few themes in common with John taking a different course completely.
John’s Gospel is concerned with predictions and reassuring promises.
Jesus predicts his death
Jesus predicts his betrayal
Jesus predicts Peter’s denial
Jesus comforts his disciples
The way to the Father
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit
The disciples cries will turn to joy
The other three Gospels have a different tack.
They start with Jesus going to the Temple and overturning the tables of the buyers, sellers and money changers. The crowd were amazed at the teachings of Jesus. The chief priests and teachers wanted to kill him.
The authority of Jesus is questioned by the chief priests and elders. Jesus side-steps their trap by saying I will answer their question only if they answer one themselves. John’s Baptism, where did it come from? Was it from heaven or from men? The teachers refuse to answer because any answer they give will get them in trouble. So Jesus refuses to answer their question.
Then the gospels have a mixture of parables and teaching and especially in Matthew it feels like there is a lot of information packed in as time is running out.
Only four passages appear in all three gospels, these are :
The Parable of the tenants
Paying Taxes to Caesar
Marriage at the Resurrection
Sign of the End of the Age.
I thought by examining these passages will I get more understanding of Jesus’s journey from saviour to criminal’s death.
The Parable of the Tenants -Matthew 21 33-45
This is a very challenging parable because we can see ourselves within it. A landowner (GOD) creates a vineyard and goes to another land. The vineyard is rented to tenant farmers (THE CHIEF PRIESTS, PHARISEES AND PERHAPS OURSELVES) who look after the vines. When the time for harvest comes the landowner sends a number of servants (PROPHETS) to collect his share of the fruit.
However the tenants do not want to listen to these messengers or give up any of the fruit so they beat them up or kill the messengers. Finally the landowner sends his own son (JESUS) thinking the tenants will respect him, but they kill the son. The landowner comes, what will he do? The disciples reply ‘The owner will chuck out the bad tenants and replace them with tenants who will give up a share of the fruit’. Jesus says ‘the stone the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is wonderful in our eyes’, a quote from Psalm 118 22-23.
The stone that was unwanted (Jesus and his teachings) will become the cornerstone of a new and mighty building (church). At the end of the parable it says the teachers and Pharisees knew the parable was about them and they looked for ways to arrest Jesus but they were afraid of the crowd because the people thought Jesus was a prophet.
The crowd believe in Jesus and his message and this at the moment acts as protection.
Paying taxes to Caesar - Matthew 22 15-22
This passage shows the chief priests and elders sending spies to try to trap Jesus into saying something incriminating so he can be charged and handed over to the Roman authorities. Jesus outwits them with this wonderful statement ‘Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s’
Marriage at the Resurrection – Matthew 22 23-33.
Here the sadducees, strict followers of the Law of Moses, try to tie Jesus up in knots. Using a law from Moses about if a man dies without children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. They create a scenario where if seven brothers end up marrying the same woman, what happens at the resurrection , who will be the woman’s husband. Instead of getting caught up in this debate Jesus says this to the sadducees ‘you are in error because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like angels in heaven. That must have shocked the sadducees, their earthly frame of reference limiting their ability to interpret scripture.
Sign of the End of the Age – Matthew 24 1-35
At this time of COVID 19 this might be a passage to avoid or read avidly depending on your state of mind.
My one comment about this long passage is about the beginning, the disciples are walking past the temple, the biggest and most magnificent building in their world and Jesus says ‘I will tell you the truth not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’.
This must have been deeply shocking to the disciples, although their leader was at odds with the temple authorities how could these massive blocks of stone which held such significance for the Jewish people, be vulnerable and fragile. At this time of social isolation we are all feeling like this, our society and way of life which seemed solid and stable, suddenly the rules are changed and nothing is the same.
Take air travel, it was taken for granted that it must only increase but suddenly it has practically stopped.
These passages show that Jesus and his teaching were a challenge to the establishment, the chief priests, Sadducees and Pharisees and for this reason he was hated, feared and envied. Rather than engaging with Jesus’s new way of thinking, they looked to trap him and find ways to get rid of him. At Jesus’s trial both Pilate and his wife saw that Jesus was unfairly accused but the crowd was persuaded to release Barabbas and execute Jesus by the Pharisees.
How were the crowd persuaded by their teachers? Was it a sheep mentality? Were the teachers held in such regard that the crowd did not dare question their decision. Did the teachers appeal to their fears about the old order breaking down? Did the teachers appeal to their desire for freedom? Barabbas was the man to lead the revolt against the Romans and free the Jewish people.
The Bible does not say and we shall never know, some will say this was part of God’s plan and so it came to pass. At this difficult time, when so many are feeling scared or insecure we must pray to God for guidance to do the right thing and not be driven by our fears or selfish desires. Perhaps we need to put the second packet of toilet roll back on the shelf!
O Lord our God,
We bring You the needs of our world,
broken by division and suspicion,
by hatred and war.
We bring You the needs of our land,
the hungry and homeless,
the wounded and despairing.
We bring you the needs of ourselves and our loved ones,
seeking Your peace and healing,
Your wisdom and protection.
[Let's bring our needs before God now and share with him those things that are on our mind - our world, our community, the church, the sick, our leaders, our friends and families]
Hear us, O God, and come to us,
In compassion and love rescue and restore us,
And make us a people in whom Your gentle reign is seen.
Created with images by Valentin Salja - "Beautiful palm leaves on the exotic island of Gozo, Malta. Shot by > www.instagram.com/valentinsalja" • Peter Fogden - "https://www.instagram.com/petefogden/" • Bruno Aguirre - "untitled image" • Aaron Burden - "untitled image" • wisconsinpictures - "Photo of a Bible with a Christmas tree in the background." • Jaime Casap - "Sonoma Valley" • rolf neumann - "untitled image" • Tersius van Rhyn - "untitled image" • Diana Vargas - "One and only way" • Milada Vigerova - "untitled image"