Editor’s note: On Saturday, March 23, we gathered at Malone University for G92 Canton. The day was packed with awesome speeches and workshops, but the highlight and culmination of the day was gathering in downtown Canton for a prayer vigil where attendees stood in solidarity with their immigrant neighbors and prayed for a just solution to our nation’s immigration issues. Rev. Dustin White closed out the vigil with the following thoughts, which we’ve adapted for today’s blog. Prepare to be inspired!
Yesterday was Palm Sunday and many of us found ourselves in church with a poignant, yet pretty familial custom. We all know the routine, right? We’ll smile as all of the adorable children parade down the aisle in their pastel outfits that they’ve donned a week early while waving palm branches that—let’s just be honest—your church office likely ordered from a catalogue. We’ll hear a sermon centering around Jesus riding in on a donkey amidst cries of “Hosanna,” but we often fail to note where He is riding to—and why.
Because viewed in the larger context of the narrative, in Mark’s Gospel chapter 11, we see that there is this growing momentum that is leading towards the Temple. And Mark is building the anticipation to cue the reader in on the fact that when Jesus gets to the Temple something BIG… something “Kingdom” is about to happen.
See, the Temple was—in a very real sense—the center of the universe in 1st Century Judaism. This was the one place on the planet where you could go to experience a radical welcoming from God, to participate in authentic worship, and to have your prayers heard. This reality adds to the mounting tension and momentum about to culminate in the Temple.
And then Mark does something odd. He inserts this scene of Jesus in a state of hunger, and he notes that Jesus sees a tree with leaves blossoming out in the distance. Now Mark is quick to point out to the reader that the figs weren’t in season, but scholars have pointed out that by having leaves it should have had some fruit—even if it weren’t ripe. But despite its outward flourishing appearance, Jesus finds no fruit and knowing what is about to take place at the Temple, uses the opportunity to teach His disciples and He curses the tree. Mark again goes out of his way to note that the “disciples heard it.”
The scene culminates with Jesus entering the Temple and what He finds breaks His heart and outrages Him. In what we typically call the “Cleansing of the Temple” Jesus grows angry at those selling goods and animals and He drives out the money changers while He quotes two passages from Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7 saying, “It’s written that my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations but you’ve made it a den of thieves.”
Most of us have the assumption that Jesus simply has “beef” with consumerism being in the Temple, but the source of his indignation in this chaotic scene centers around what God describes as the ideal picture of Temple worship in His Kingdom from the passages Jesus quotes—a place where all people from all nations have open access to Him and to one another in worship without being used solely as the benefit to someone else’s affluence. And instead of this hospitality of “welcoming the stranger,” Jesus finds that foreigners and immigrants were being taken advantage of. What’s more haunting about the scene is that Jesus found Himself on the outside of a wall erected right inside the Temple complex to separate those of Israel from foreigners—a wall built to keep “stranger” excluded on the outside.
Not only that—but this was Passover—this was the time where yearly people would flock to the Temple from many different lands, from many different nations, over many miles to make a sacrifice to God. The temple officials knew these people from other nations couldn’t make the long journey without jeopardizing the animal they would be sacrificing so the Temple officials began selling animals on the outside of this wall at extremely high prices. The Temple tax that was required—yes, even then immigrants and taxes was an issue—was unable to be done with the coins of other nations. So they money changers exchanged the currency with exorbitant interest rates.
Jesus was witnessing the colossal failure of His Matthew 25 mandate as the people migrating to the Temple were excluded, extorted, and exploited. And somehow… during Holy Week of 2013—it doesn’t seem too different. No, the stones of that Temple no longer are erected—but the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church informing them that WE—as a people—are the Temple. Yet, in our churches, in our communities, in our nation—we still see the stranger excluded, extorted, and exploited behind walls.
And following His cleansing, Jesus revisits that old fig tree and His disciples are shocked to find that indeed, just one day later, it had withered. And in amazement they begin to say to Jesus “Jesus, look! The tree you cursed withered!” And in a sense, Jesus says “Duh! Because that mountain up there—(and He probably isn’t referring to some hill off in the distance. The Temple was referred to in this time as THE Mountain) that mountain up there that we just came from, the mountain of inequality, impotence, and injustice—if you pray in faith with what is the Father’s heart, it will be cast into the sea!”
So—this Holy Week I am left with the challenge and conviction from Jesus to pray Kingdom prayers in faith for God to remove the mountain of injustice in our land and in our communities—and for Him to cast it into the sea! Yes, immigration reform may seem like a daunting task—a huge mountain—but when God’s people lift their prayers in faith, mountains move! When God’s people cry out, walls crumble to the ground. By lifting our voices—many voices in many tongues but of one heart—to the God of all that is, I believe we will see His Kingdom would burst into our land. When we raise our voices, and the city streets rumble under our feet, the flood gates will buckle and justice WILL roll like a mighty river. And in doing so in this moment today, we can experience the culminating vision of the Kingdom where every nation and every tongue lifts our voices in worship to the Lamb. May this Holy Week of 2013 be a week of seeing mountains move.
Dustin White is the Pastor of Radial Church in Canton, Ohio. He and his wife Jamie co-founded SOMOS, a community-based ministry that seeks to follow Jesus’ command to welcome the stranger. They have both have partnered and worked with Mission Year, Alterna, and the Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92, or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
We’re always looking for new guest bloggers; please check out our Guest Blog Submission Guidelines if you’re interested.