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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
in partnership with
St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 92
Have you ever watched martial arts action movies? The first one made in Hollywood was
Bad Day at Black Rock
way back in 1955, with the ageing Spencer Tracy, black suited and trilby wearing, playing the hero, sorting out ruffian cowboys. Maybe you think of David Carradine in
or even Mr Miyagi in
The Karate Kid
There is a delicious predictability in many of the fight scenes. Bad guy provokes hero. Hero turns other cheek. Bad guy starts fight. Hero blocks or side-steps as bad guy’s rage comes to nothing. Hero goes on offensive. Bad guy quickly dispatched.
As we watch, we know what is coming. We take a sharp intake of breath as the hero deftly dodges all that is thrown at him. We are awed by the destructive demolition when he goes on the attack.
Mark has shown us Jesus ducking and diving. The bad guys can’t lay a finger on him. Now is the time for the hero to go on the offensive (
Everyone loves the underdog. Especially when upending the great and the powerful. The crowd in the temple are no different. High on holiday spirit of Passover, they had thronged into the temple as usual. This year, though, they had seen a verbal firework display like no other. They had never seen so many religious and political celebrities all in one place, or all with one cause - beating down the carpenter … who had gloriously won through.
There had been finger-pointing and hushed whispers as the top priests, rabbis and leaders had all gathered around Jesus, their verbal man-traps cunningly set. Delight was everywhere as Jesus adroitly avoided every single one. They had relished the abject defeat and utter despair on the faces of the leaders.
The last scribe has wandered off into the crowd. He’s a little shellshocked, unsure whether to be impressed by Jesus’ answer, or offended to be told he is only “close” to God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ enemies have now melted away. They will be back, though, with a traitor and a deadly night ambush. They will have their moment, but it is not now.
Jesus is surrounded by the ordinary pilgrims. Many were there to offer their sacrifices. Some had made the journey to the temple with Jesus. All are utterly enthralled, first by the routing of the opposition, now by the authority and clarity of his teaching. Scribes skulk in the background, but not one of them dares to question or object.
Conviction and passion ooze from every pore, as Jesus opens his heart and words of power and truth cascade into every ear and every heart. Jesus takes a deep breath and glances at the scribes. The crowd follow his eye, wondering what will come next as Jesus has the scribes firmly in his sights.
He has a question of his own for the scribes, by now too punch-drunk to dispute with Jesus. They are sour, silently seething.
“How come the scribes call the Messiah “the Son of David”? If David calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”
Jesus quotes the well-known psalm to prove his point:
“The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand
until I put all your enemies
under your feet””
Everyone in the crowd gets the headline in an instant. The Messiah can’t be David’s son and Lord at the same time. The crowd smirk at the scribes; they have clearly got it badly wrong.
The full realisation of Jesus’ meaning dawns more gradually. David was the finest king they had ever had. A true superstar. Churchill, Nelson and the Queen all in one. A national hero. If even David bows down to him as “Lord”, then just how great is this Messiah?
Many of them have just greeted Jesus with wild exuberance as he entered Jerusalem, coming in as their Messiah. This psalm-quoting isn’t mere abstract debate. They know Jesus is talking about himself, right here, right now.
Minds are being blown apart. They adore Jesus. They have all seen the miracles, or heard of them. His teaching breathes life and love into your soul, bringing God close. But it seems this Jesus is even more than the most wonderful teacher they have ever heard. Some had already started to see him as Messiah. But is he really so great he is Lord, even of David? Their view of Jesus was already high, but jaws drop as they realise it needs to go higher still.
Eyes slowly open to the breathtaking truth about Jesus. A collective shiver goes up the spine as the rest of that psalm quote sinks in. Enemies under his feet? They had suffered long under the Roman jackboot, how they would love to see Messiah turn that table and crush his boot down on Roman skulls. They knew what that image meant. A prostrate enemy, hopeless and helpless, entirely at Messiah’s mercy and none would be given.
Except it seems Jesus has a different enemy in mind. He doesn’t point to the Roman soldiers milling outside the temple, their standards fluttering in the breeze. Jesus fixes a steely gaze on the scribes. He lets loose…
Their “religion” was just an excuse for indulging their own selfish pride, massaging their ego. Vanity inflated at each respectful greeting in the street, each party invitation (your party was nothing without a scribe there) and every time they pompously took the best seats in the religious meeting place. As for protecting widows, the most vulnerable in society … Every time a widow trusted her estate to the scribes to “look after”, they just milked her for all she was worth.
What enemies is Messiah about to crush? Shouldn’t it be Rome? It seems Messiah has a different enemy in mind. Not the pagan conqueror, but the Jewish establishment. But Messiah was supposed to be part of that establishment, not its destroyer and judge. They can barely grasp the enormity and horror of what is unfolding.