On this day of Holy Week, we find Jesus in the Temple- the place that He had just vividly purged of opportunistic moneychangers and their like. In doing so, He re-asserts the Temple’s primary purpose, for it is to be “A house of prayer for all peoples”. And now on Tuesday, Jesus is being questioned and challenged; His opponents looking for any window to discredit and humiliate this threat to their entrenched status. You might call this day, “Debate Day”, but it’s really not an even playing field. Sure, it’s groups and sects of learned scholars conspiring together against a single man, but this is Jesus we’re talking about. They didn’t have a chance.
But what is easily lost amidst the wonder at Jesus’ remarkable responses and brilliant rhetoric is His larger goal in these exchanges. In our contentious and divided day, we often aim for the “killer line” or “takedown sound-bite” to embarrass or humiliate our opponents (or simply those who think differently than us). Jesus certainly confounds and confronts His challengers— “Woe to you” is repeated 7 times at one point. But Jesus is not aiming at shame or even trying to “win” an argument. That’s more our style. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will find that we’re usually motivated by one of two things. It’s either pride: that we’re smarter and “better”; or, more often, fear: a troubling sense that we may have missed it or gotten it wrong, or perhaps that we’ll be exposed or embarrassed in some way. Pride and fear keep Jesus’ opponents- and often us- from Jesus’ actual message.
And that message is right there at the beginning of these exchanges. In a stunning declaration, Jesus tells the upstanding, respectable and outwardly good people that whores and thieves are closer to God than they are. Seriously. Let that sink in a moment. Remember, Jesus isn’t trying to humiliate. He’s desperately trying to INVITE. The “bad” people were deeply aware of their need for God’s grace and acceptance, and they found it in Jesus. The “good” people were so busy following the rules that they couldn’t. And so instead of being embraced in His outstretched arms, they would soon nail them to a cross. But on Tuesday, Jesus is still trying to reach them, warn them, even welcome them.
So how about you today? Think about “those” people- whoever they are: people who look, think, or act differently than you. Do you find yourself putting them in a category, like “wrong” or “less than”? Do you have internal (or actual) “debates” with them to reinforce your own position and alleviate your own nagging fears? Consider again Jesus’ intent for His temple and now for His people- that we would be a place and people of prayer and welcome “for all the peoples”. Why don’t you have a talk with Jesus about this today?