Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday of Holy Week--2007

From comments at Eschaton earlier this week:

*FLASH* Soledad informs me that "all this week"
American Morning will broadcast from "the Holy Land!"

Wall Street?

American troops are on hand to be sure no money lenders will be harassed.
The last is from your humble host. I had this comment in mind, from kathz:

This is a serious query though it may sound as though it isn't. Why, when the events of Palm Sunday are celebrated and the subject of hymns, re-enactments, etc. is so little attention paid to throwing the money-changers and sellers out of the temple? This story appears in all four gospels; Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest the timing was Palm Sunday or the day after (although John places it after the account of the Wedding in Cana). The words spoken are roughly the same although muted a bit in John. This repetition suggests it's important - perhaps linking to earlier Judaic teaching (in Amos, I think) about the importance of fair dealing with the poor and suggesting anger at commercial practices, at least as they affect religious life. But although the story is known, it seems to be sidelined in accounts and celebrations of Holy Week (though I haven't been an Anglican for some time and much of my knowledge is derived from services on BBC's Radio 4).
I'm not sure why the seminal event of the cleansing of the Temple was removed from the Sunday liturgy, though I have my suspicions. It does come up today, however, in the lectionary for Tuesday of Holy Week:

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Mark 11:15-19

This passage doesn't show up at all in the Liturgy of the Palms for the lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer. It is in the Liturgy of the Word for year B, which uses all of Mark 15. But lectionary resources for the Anglican Communion, even for The Episcopal Church, seem to vary. This online resource, for example, gives me a very different reading for today than the Prayer book does. But it's fair to say the cleansing of the temple is not common fare for Sunday readings in the Episcopal church, at least. Why not?

Well, I don't have a definitive answer. The cynical answer is that church was quite full last Sunday, and no one likes to remind the congregation that Jesus chased the money-changers out of the temple, especially in America or western Europe. But I don't think that's it. More likely, the answer is in the conflation of Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.

For a time the two were separated: Palm Sunday didn't immediately preceded Easter; Passion Sunday did. But Palm Sunday is the Sunday of spectacle, much like Easter Sunday. And my educated guess is that people came on Palm Sunday, and avoided Passion Sunday much as they avoid Good Friday today. So Palm Sunday moved closer to Easter, and Passion Sunday was included so people would remember the reason for Easter. And in that move, with so much of the story to tell, something had to give way.

The usual reading for the Liturgy of the Palms is the Palm Sunday story from one of the synoptics. In the Episcopal church, this is read (if possible) outside, prior to a procession (with palms) into the church. Once inside, the mood shifts, and the longer Passion story, again from one of the synoptics, is read (John's passion is read on Good Friday). But except for Mark's version, the other two synoptic stories are so long, it's easier to simply start them after the cleansing of the Temple. This is a real loss, of course, because it shifts the focus from what most New Testament scholars think is the historical reason for the crucifixion (Jesus stirring up the people during Passover) to the soteriological reasons decided on some 4 centuries later.

In historical context, the palace of Pilate had walls that looked down directly into the courtyard of the Temple. Passover was a Jewish holiday of national identity, and so one of great concern to the Pax Romana. Pilate's guards would have been watching from the walls all that went on in the Temple during this most important of weeks. A lone figure driving people out of the Temple would have been reason enough for Pilate to execute him. The Pax Romana was brutally enforced, and this one instance would have been enough to bring the itinerant teacher from a backwater like Galilee to the attention of the Roman Governor.

The irony is that most of the explanations for Jesus' execution are probably false, or at most unlikely. Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for political crimes. The label "King of the Jews" would make sense to Rome only as a political claim. Christians have abstracted "Messiah" into a wholly metaphysical position, but it would not have been understood that way in 1st century Palestine. Most of the Passion stories (such as Luke's tale of Barabbas) are more likely inventions meant to deflect Roman interest from any written allegation that Rome behaved unjustly; not to reflect the reality of the grounds for the execution itself. So I find it unfortunate that the temple cleansing isn't better represented in Holy Week. But I suspect the line had to be drawn somewhere, for the sake of the liturgy, and that's where it fell.

No comments:

Post a Comment