As we are aware, the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It encompasses 40 days (excluding Sundays). For this last week of Lent, Passion Week, we invite you to take a journey with us for the purpose of reflection, renewal, challenge, awareness, and a closer relationship with Jesus the Christ, our Redeemer. Each day, you will find Scriptures from the different Gospel writers, reflections, and questions to help guide you on your journey. You will notice that there are many similarities and several contrasts between the Gospels. Our primary focus will be on providing a synopsis of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Most scholars believe that Mark was, in fact, the first Gospel to be written, followed by Matthew and Luke- both of whom took Mark’s narrative as an outline for their own, and added critical detail. The Gospel of John, however, did not borrow from Mark and thus is written with a different style and timeline than the other three, making it difficult to “sync” with the other writers. These differences were attributable to different writers with different source materials and a diversified way of telling the narrative of Jesus. There are many episodes in the Synoptic writings that are not addressed in John, as evidenced in the gaps of study that you will see below. We hope you will find this exercise refreshing and inspiring as we explore the theme, “Walking with Jesus.”
Rev. Dr. Clay L. Barrow
Overview of the Gospels on Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; John 12:12-19
If we can recall from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on what we refer to as “Palm Sunday” to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes int the name of the Lord.” Matthew addresses Jesus as Son of David, Mark does not give any particular word or phrase as such to describe Jesus, and Luke does not use the word “hosanna,” but instead says, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” John (12:12, and 5 days before the Passover and not 6, i.e., on Monday) has the crowd saying, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” leaving no question John’s understanding of the overall sentiment of the crowd who greeted Jesus. “Hosanna” in proper context means “save now,” which echoes the sentiment of Psalm 118. The term is expressed to give kingly adoration and expectation, seemingly the language that Luke chooses to use to unambiguously affix the hope of the people for Jesus. The crowd sees Jesus as being their savior and king. But, to save them from what?
Reflections: Who was this man they see riding on a donkey to whom they bow and cover the road with their branches and cloaks (their equivalent of a “red carpet” treatment? If you were in the crowd, what do you think would have been on your mind when you saw him? Right now, how do you see Jesus? Do you see him as a king who changes your physical destiny, or the one who saves you from sin? Or both?
From Matthew’s perspective, on that same Sunday in which Jesus entered into Jerusalem on both a donkey and a colt, he cleansed the Temple of money changers. What was the reason behind his outrage? The issue was not so much that they were selling goods in and of itself (after all, they were selling animals to be used for the Passover Festival), but because the merchants were not fair and honest in their dealings with people. Observant, devout Jews were coming from throughout what we now call the Middle East to Jerusalem for their annual Passover (Feast of Unleavened Bread) celebration. It was one of the mandatory gatherings of the pious Jews, according to the Book of Exodus. During this period in history, each region minted their own money, however, being that Jerusalem (and nearly all of the Middle East) was under Roman rule, the only legal currency that was allowed in the market place (polis) was that which was authorized by Rome with the image of Caesar. Therefore, pilgrims from around the various regions had to exchange their currency for the authorized currency when they arrived. In today’s terms, if a US citizen traveled to France for vacation and wanted to use the European money instead of the dollar bill that is printed in the US, they would have to take their US dollars and exchange them for the euro or franc. The dollar and the euro have different values on the market ($1.00 is the equivalent of .93 euro, in other words, if I wanted to exchange my US money to 100 Euros, it would cost me $112.88). The issue that Jesus had with the money changers is that they were cheating the pilgrims out of their money, making an exorbitant profit. Matthew and Luke all agree that on the same day he entered Jerusalem, he cleansed the Temple of the money-changers; Mark says this occurred on Monday (11:15). However, Luke adds another detail- Luke says (19:41-44) that before Jesus does this deed, he wept over Jerusalem for the second time! (the first being in Luke 13:34-35, where the author uses the same words as Matthew in 23:37-39 that occurs on Monday, whereas Mark does not include weeping detail in his narrative at all. For John, the cleansing of the temple event is not linked or connected to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (2:13-17). Still, it uses the narrative as a sign of Jesus’ authority after the wedding at Cana.
Matthew writes that after Jesus had cleansed the Temple, the blind and the lame came to Jesus in the Temple, and he healed them. The chief priests and scribes saw it, and heard the children exclaim once again, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” These words incensed the authorities because this was a direct affront and challenge to their position within the community.
The term “Son of David” indicated that the people who Jesus had impacted on that day saw him as the rightful heir to the throne of their ancestor, King David. Son of David, therefore, meant that not only did they see him as the proper heir, but that God had anointed him to do so. He was thought to be their “mashiach”- the anointed one who is set apart. From their point of view, a messiah would come to deliver them from the oppressive Roman rule. Peace would be achieved because he would establish the rule of God over the land, and nations will once again see Jerusalem as the beacon of God on the hill that draws all countries. However, they did not anticipate what Jesus came to offer- the salvation of the soul. After this, Jesus left Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany.
Reflections: Has Jesus ever disappointed you? Have you ever wanted or needed Jesus to do something for you, but He did not deliver? How did you handle it? How did it shape your faith and your view of God?
Monday of Passion Week: Matthew 21:18-22:14; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:28-48; John 12:12-36
The Synoptic Gospels agree that on Monday, while Jesus was on his way back into Jerusalem from his night in Bethany, he became hungry and spotted a fig tree. However, to his disappointment, when he pulled back the leaves, it had no fruit. In anger, Jesus said, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” and according to Matthew, immediately, the tree withered and died. Mark states that after he cursed the fig tree, Jesus then entered the Temple and cleansed it. Jesus explains to the disciples in Matthew and Mark foreshadowing the destruction of Jerusalem and the power of faith on Tuesday. Luke mentions the cursing of the fig tree as a parable (13:6-9), but it is not connected to Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem with an entirely different meaning behind it. John says that Jesus enters Jerusalem on this day.
Reflections: How do you see the fig tree? Do you see it from Matthew and Mark’s points of view to illustrate the power of faith (Matthew 21:20-22; Mark 11:20-26), or as foreshadowing the coming of Jesus and judgment of the world (Matthew 22:32-35; Mark 13:28-3; Luke 21:29-33)? If you were the fig tree and the Lord came looking for fruit underneath your leaves, what would He find?
Matthew’s narrative portrays the chief priests and scribes as questioning Jesus’s authority as Jesus proceeded to teach to them in parables: of the two sons, of the wicked tenants, and of the wedding banquet. He then addresses their questions regarding paying taxes, and what is the greatest commandment, and about the usage of the term, “Son of David.” Mark says that he addressed a question regarding the resurrection. Luke adds the detail to also describe the destruction of both Jerusalem and the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man.
The term “Son of Man” has different meanings in the Old Testament context than in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the terminology refers to just a human male (see Numbers 23:19; 2 Samuel 7:14, Isaiah 52:14, Joel 1:12), and in other places, the term refers to an angelic being that has the likeness a human male (Daniel 7:9; 10:16). In the New Testament, all four Gospels, however, only use the term to refer to Jesus as The Son of Man, i.e., the most human of us all, the perfect human being, the human with divine authority.
Reflections: As Christians, we believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. What impact does that distinction have for you? What does it mean to you? How does that inspire you?