This is a continuation of daily posts through Holy Week that began yesterday.
It struck me this time more than any other time I’ve read through the gospel of Matthew that confrontation and strife first greeted Jesus when he entered Jerusalem.
The first thing he did was cleanse the temple. Yes. I’d noticed that before.
But this was the first time I’d thought about this being the temple. As in, the huge, monolithic structure that the people of Israel took years and years to build in the time of Solomon. As in, the place of intent and holy pilgrimage for all the Jews every year when they observed the Passover. As in, regarded with way more reverence than any local synagogue that stood in for the temple on behalf of the people throughout the rest of the year’s duration.
Jesus came and cleansed that temple.
I’m pretty sure that made no little mark on the city that week.
He then proceeded to have it out with the religious leaders — the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the Herodians. Every single one of them wanted a piece of Jesus once he got to Jerusalem.
And here’s what I noticed.
Even though Jesus had been confronted by the religious leaders throughout his three years of ministry elsewhere, this time it came on him like an onslaught. He’d no sooner finish answering one question than another group of leaders would approach him with another.
I share in the Look at Jesus course that the gospel of Matthew is known as a teaching gospel. This is a gospel where we find long sections of scripture where Jesus teaches and teaches and teaches in long, continuous strands. Sometimes the people listening to that teaching are his disciples. Sometimes it is the multitude of people following him around everywhere
In this case, Jesus launches into a teaching discourse with his enemies.
For three straight chapters, we see him very pointedly telling stories that liken those religious leaders to people who completely mess up — a son who tells his father that he’ll work the family vineyard but then doesn’t; vinedressers who are hired to work a landowner’s vineyard but beat, stone, and murder everyone in authority who comes on the owner’s behalf to check on the land, even up to the landowner’s son; the original guest list for a king’s lavish wedding feast who decide their own affairs are more important than the wedding feast and even go so far as to kill those who come to invite them to attend.
Matthew makes very clear that the religious leaders know what Jesus is doing in these stories — that he’s talking about them. They can read between the lines of the stories, and they’re furious.
The conflict doesn’t stop there, though.
Jesus then begins his long and famous diatribe against the scribes and Pharisees. Not only does he first warn the people against them in no uncertain terms, but he then starts in on them directly with numerous “Woe to you!” vindictives.
The confrontations Jesus has with the religious leaders earlier in his ministry are tame compared to those he engaged in Jerusalem the very last week of his life.
It’s as though the fire has been turned up — way up. And it’s about to boil over.