In the stillness at the end of the day, I stop and look around at everything. There are challenges I face, there are questions unanswered, and there are lessons learned (or re-learned!) But Lord, in the midst of everything I see, you are there. You are here. And I am so grateful for your presence. As I seek to engage with your word, please open the eyes of my heart to see and savor your truths. Be Lord of my thoughts, my words, and my deeds.
Continuing with Mark 11, go ahead and re-read verse 1-4, then continue on through verse 11.
Inching my way through the book of Mark is an incredibly rich experience.
My reading (and writing) has been inconsistent lately, as you may have noticed. My travel schedule is more intense than usual right now, and the inconsistency of pace has had an impact on my reflective reading. I’m sorry to say that I’ve been in a fairly “nose to the grindstone” mode of late, trying to get many things done before I leave for India on Monday. I will be in three different cities, speaking at three different events, and I have had a lot to do in preparation for both the talks and the trip.
But now you understand why I need this blog—I started it so that I would have some sort of accountability for my devotional reading and reflecting. I pray that my fits and starts of late don’t discourage you in your own journey of reading and reflecting!
Yet God can use even the space created by my inconsistency to give me fresh eyes to see, and tonight, when I picked back up with Mark 11, I saw something in this very familiar text that I have never noticed before. It’s verse eleven:
“And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
Jesus has just ridden into town on a young donkey (which my fellow blogger Rachelle pointed out in a comment on my last post was a sign of a king in search of peace, not war). He was met with adoring fans casting palm branches at his feet as a sign of honor and shouting “Hosanna!”
These are the details I usually glean from this passage. On Palm Sunday, this is our focus, right?
But after all that, Jesus went into the temple. “And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
This stopped me tonight, as I imagined Jesus there.
In this passage, Passion week has begun. Jesus knows what is coming in the days ahead, but, despite his efforts to explain it to them, his disciples do not seem to know what horrors await. Jesus is alone in the knowledge of what he will endure. No one, except God the Father, sees what’s to come, and even God will leave him feeling abandoned and forsaken at the very end. And what does he do here, on the threshold of betrayal, abuse, scorn, and torture?
He looks around at everything.
He takes it all in: the adoring crowd who will soon turn on him. The animals serving as transportation, sacrifices, and, perhaps, companions. The palm branches, the buildings, the religious leaders in their robes, adorned with phylacteries. His disciples, still beside him—at least for a while longer.
And, apparently, savvy entrepreneurs taking advantage of religious protocol and turning it into a business venture. What is interesting to me is that Mark skips an important details about what happened next. I don’t know why that is. But in a parallel account—Luke’s telling of this exact night (Like 19:45-48)—Jesus does something before he leaves the temple.
He rages against the religious machine.
“And he entered the temple,” Luke writes, “and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.'”
What happened next? We can’t say for sure. But it was late. He was tired. And they still had a bit of a walk ahead of them to Bethany, where they would lodge for the night. My guess is that he stayed with his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that night, but I don’t know for sure. A few chapters after this account in Matthew, he is at the home of Simon the Leper, also in Bethany.
The thing that keeps coming back to mind, though, as I consider this passage in Mark is that moment when Jesus “looked around at everything.” I wonder if he was thinking about the day he started his ministry, when he stood up in the temple and read from the prophet Isaiah (see Luke 4), preaching what my friend Tobin Wilson calls in his excellent book Areté Again, “the shortest sermon ever preached.”
“Today this has been fulfilled in your presence.” Good news. Liberty. Healing. These have been fulfilled in Christ. Yet here he was, three years later, and the people were still poor. They were still enslaved.
They were still blind.
Jesus paused in the midst of it all and looked around at everything. His rage against the money lenders was not spontaneous or out of control. It was perfect, holy, righteous anger that stemmed from a man who embodied self-control without fail. He paused, and in that moment, he seemed to reassert the perspective he needed for the days to come.
As I find myself often feeling like I’m in a wind tunnel of activity, just trying to stay the course, I am helped by this reminder that Jesus stopped and looked around. He took it in. He processed. He considered. And then he acted. That pausing is important, and even when it is “late,” it is a vital aspect of the spiritual life. In the midst of the chaos, stop. Look around. And then proceed.