People ask questions for lots of reasons besides wanting to get information. Sometimes it is to find out how much people know, or to get them to realize what they don't know so they will want to learn more. But other times, as in today's passage, people ask questions not to increase understanding but to trick someone, to embarrass or to manipulate. Those who questioned Jesus thought they had found the perfect trap, but instead they were the ones who ended up looking foolish.
Having refused to give a direct answer when asked about his authority (at the end of the previous chapter), Jesus now proceeds to give an indirect but nevertheless very clear answer. For us, knowing what is in store for Jesus over the next few days, it is even easier to understand than it would have been for the crowds then. But the leaders understood quite well that he spoke the parable against them.
The first few verses of this psalm might leave us feeling that it's talking about some impossibly perfect class of people. Blameless? Do no wrong? Fully obey all God's precepts? But then the psalmist switches to the first person and we find that he's like us, wanting to be steadfast in obedience but not always measuring up. If we follow his example of deep desire to faithfully obey God, we will also learn the blessedness of following Him.
In our society it is often considered rude to answer a question with another question, perhaps seen as evidence of agressiveness, maybe trying to cover up for ignorance or embarrassment. But it was a traditional element of Jewish scholarly discussion, one very frequently used by Jesus. He did address the topic of the question, that of authority, but cleverly avoided giving one of the expected responses, which would only be used to accuse him of wrongdoing.
In the midst of messages of hope to the exiles of Israel, Isaiah proclaims God's promise to extend His blessing to other peoples also. There will be a day when both eunuchs and foreigners will worship alongside Jews in God's house of prayer.
Imagine that you are a pilgrim from far away, in Jerusalem for the Passover, and you are waiting in line at the Temple to change your money and buy an animal to sacrifice, and along comes a man who begins to overturn tables and puts a halt to the buying and selling. Are you upset at the disruption? Curious who this might be, who dares to oppose the powerful priesthood? The priests are going to be angry - what will this mean for you and your family?
While many of us in North America, especially in regions too cold for fig trees, have never seen a fig tree nor eaten a raw fig, it was very familiar to the Jews in Bible times. In the Old Testament, the fig tree was often used as a symbol of the nation of Israel, and destruction of a fig tree as a sign of judgment.
Mark 11:12-14, 20-26
This passage has been cited by some people as evidence that Jesus was not perfect, taking out his anger on a fig tree that did not have fruit when he wanted it. But Jesus was not angry at the fruitless fig tree, but rather at the nation of Israel, which did not bear spiritual fruit. This message of judgment, however, is joined with a promise of spiritual power for those who by faith are his followers.
We tend to either think too much of ourselves, that we are worth more attention and recognition than we really are, or try to counterbalance that tendency by thinking we have little or no value. Psalm 8 provide the correct perspective, that we are are indeed a very small part of God's vast and wondrous creation, yet God cares for us and gives us an important role to play and caring for the rest of creation.
We don't know how large the group with Jesus was as they arrived at Jerusalem. But we have probably all seen how any group acting with purpose tends to attract attention, and usually picks up people along the way, whether out of curiosity, enthusiasm, or just the desire to be part of whatever is happening. We can imagine how the group around Jesus increased as people heard the cries of "Hosanna" and joined the growing procession.
Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22
A hasty reading of this psalm might suggest that once people turn to God, all their problems are over. But David's statement that the righteous person may have many troubles suggests rather that as God delivers him from each one, more follow later - and God again delivers him. God delivers us from troubles and fears, not so that we can have an easier life, but so that we continue to trust and praise Him for His goodness.
The passage right before this one has one striking similarity to this one. Someone comes to Jesus to ask for something, and Jesus asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" But where James and John asked for positions of power and status, and Jesus had to reply that he could not grant their request, the man in this passage makes a much better request, which Jesus gladly grants. Bartimaeus simply wants to see, and once Jesus heals him, he displays his spiritual discernment as well by choosing to follow Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem.
In ancient Israel - like everywhere in the world back then - people used the movements of the sun, moon, and stars to measure the passing of time. Today we rely primarily on clocks and calendars. But even we notice the sun rising later and setting earlier than it did a couple of months ago, and we know the days will continue to get shorter as the weather gets colder.
People today clamor for something new - the latest technology, new clothes, new movies and other entertainment - but eventually they recognize it is usually no more satisfying than whatever it replaced. People try new ways to fix the problems of society, but generation after generation, the same problems persist. A great deal has changed since the time when Ecclesiastes was written, but in many significant ways, the joys and challenges of human life are much the same as they have always been.
People without much knowledge of the Bible who hear this passage from Isaiah 53, without knowing where in the Bible it is found, tend to assume it comes from the New Testament, as the parallels between this passage, and the New Testament accounts of Jesus' suffering and death for the sins of all people, are so clear.
Mark 9:30-32; 10:32-45
We are not good at being realistic about our own capacity to faithfully follow Christ. Sometimes we are overly confident, like these disciples, that we can meet all the challenges of discipleship. Other times, mindful of past failures, we are convinced we will be overwhelmed by the trials that face us.
Our problem is usually that our focus is too much on ourselves rather than on Christ. If we learn to have the heart and mind of a servant, as he teaches in this passage, we will not only serve with humility, but by by thinking more about Christ and the needs of others than about ourselves, we will come to serve more faithfully even in times of great difficulty.