Tony's Reflection 87 

 The average nuclear weapon today is seven times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Just one would wipe Plymouth and all its people off the face of the map.

Back in Jesus’ day, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction was the Roman sword. It was utterly revolutionary, making the Roman legions an unstoppable conquering machine.

It was short enough for the Roman infantryman to stab and slash, while remaining safe behind his shield. Double-edged, so he could attack both ways. It was so sharp, it scythed through flesh and bone effortlessly. A stab from it was rarely less than fatal. A lethal weapon, indeed.

When God speaks, his word is like a double-edged sword. Flesh is ripped apart in a second, laying bare the bone in an instant. It has devastating power. Jesus’ words rip apart all pretence, every defence and expose our innermost secrets. We see their chilling destructiveness in today’s episode from
Mark (11:27-33).

They were on the road again into Jerusalem. Yesterday’s euphoria has evaporated. Where there had been burning excitement and fervent patriotism, stoked by raging Messiah fever, today there is hushed awe.

The word about the fig tree spreads quickly throughout the crowd. Everyone passing it pauses, hushed by the ashen black trunk and branches, stretching gaunt and pitiful into the deep blue sky. Yesterday there had been luscious green leaves aplenty, waving and rustling in the gentle breeze. Today there is nothing but dry, empty barrenness.

Jesus had spoken. That tree, yesterday so full of empty promise is today dead, bare and stark. How could “mere” words have the power in them to do that? What would Jesus say next? What deadly power might today’s words carry?

The temple glistened and glowed, resplendent in the morning sunshine. It boasted of the beauty of the very presence of God himself among his people. It stood on its hill proud, yet fruitless, just as that tree had made an empty show, feigning fruitfulness. The temple had no idea what, or rather who, was coming its way.

The normal bedlam of the outer courtyard fell silent as Jesus and his band entered. The animals bleated and tweeted aloud, but voices of trader and visitor alike are reduced to murmurs. Fingers pointed. Every eye was on Jesus. They had heard all he had done in the temple yesterday. What mayhem would he reap, today?

It wasn’t just the crowd thronging in the courtyard who knew what happened yesterday. The temple authorities had been regaled with stories of the Galilean rabble-rouser, the havoc he had wreaked and the accusations he had brought.

A peasant carpenter. A bumpkin from up north. Who did he think he was, questioning the religious business which had gone on there, blissfully undisturbed, day in, day out, for years? A visit to the temple might be expensive, but it brought pleasure to the heart of countless pilgrims. The carpenter would be back and next time the authorities would be ready for him. Waiting to pounce.

No sooner had Jesus set foot in the outer courtyard, the whispers that he had arrived reached the offices of the powerful. Not a moment was wasted. Everyone who was anyone rushed from their rooms and the routine business of the day, to fix this Galilean fanatic once and for all.

The crowd in the courtyard respectfully part, as the leaders home in on their target. There is total silence, the only sound coming from splendid official robes, brushing across the shiny marble floor as they whisk towards Jesus. They bristle, simmering with barely controlled pique at the outrageous impudence and disrespect to the temple shown by the carpenter.

They are all there in that “welcoming party” for Jesus. The chief priests, eager to put down the upstart. The junior priests, hot on their coattails, anticipating fireworks. The best religious and theological minds the nation can muster. Political leaders, from the capital, too. All of them are there, to squash the carpenter and put him firmly in his place.

All those who made the journey to the temple with Jesus take a step back. They have never seen so much regalia and badges of office in one place at one time. Jesus is on his own, before the assembled authorities. Their spokesman comes forward. Inwardly he is shaking with anger, but outwardly he maintains cool and poise. They have already prepared their knockout question. The Galilean carpenter has no credentials. No legal or theological training. No qualifications. They would expose him for the ignorant charlatan he was.

“By what authority do you do these things?” The question hisses out, from between gritted teeth.

Peter’s mind goes back to the storm calmed and demons silenced. That was Jesus’ authority. But what good would it do him now?

Jesus has a calm and determined grittiness about him. “You answer my question first. Then I’ll tell you. John the Baptist – whose authority did he have?”

The spokesman splutters and turns in helpless panic to the assembled authorities, now looking shifty and uneasy, their confidence drained in an instant. The crowd in the temple loved that wild man John … If they cast any question on the authority of the Baptist, the crowd would lynch them. They couldn’t admit he had God’s authority, either. John had pointed to Jesus as the coming Messiah. If John had God’s authority, then so did Jesus.

The assembled authorities shake their heads. “We don’t know,” the spokesman muttered into his beard. Some already turn away, knowing they have been beaten, but they will be back.

When Jesus speaks, his word is a sharp as a double-edged sword. It cuts away all pretence. Be careful how you listen. It can be dangerous.
signed Tony