Holy Week Devotions 2020

Wednesday April 8, 2020

Rev Sarah W Lewis

          The leadup to the execution of Jesus continued Wednesday with both the religious leaders and the followers of Jesus playing a part.  Both Matthew and Mark report that on Wednesday Jesus went back to Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, and had dinner at the home of a man who suffered from leprosy, Simon.  Our reading today is from Mark 14:1-11.

It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.

Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. “It could have been sold for a year’s wagesand the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly.

But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

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There is so much going on in these 11 verses—Jesus eats with a sick man; it is dangerous to return to Bethany when he is a “wanted man;” an unknown woman is allowed to approach Jesus at the dinner table; Jesus claims his body has now been anointed for burial; and Judas and the religious leaders strike a deal to pay Judas to betray Jesus.  Any good advisor to Jesus would have warned him not to do any of these things.

What stands out to me as I write this is the scolding the men give the unnamed woman for lavishing such expensive perfume on Jesus.  They try to make it appear they are not denying Jesus this tribute but are only concerned about the fact that “the money could have been given to the poor.” v.5

Jesus responds in Matthew’s gospel, “You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.” v.11

However, Mark adds another phrase to Jesus’ rebuttal. “You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to.” v.6

Many quote Matthew’s phrase to justify not working to relieve the suffering of the poor—“why try, Jesus says we’ll always have poor people.” The twisting of Jesus’ comment concerning the poor is an affront to everything Jesus teaches. 

Blessings on your reading and your pondering,

Pastor Sarah

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Dear friends,

     After Monday’s incident in the temple a person might think Jesus would no longer visit the temple, nor would he be welcomed.  But on Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus and his disciples return to the temple and Jesus continues to teach the people.

     Our reading today is Mark 12:1-12.

     Then Jesus began teaching them with stories: “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop.

     But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed.  The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head.  The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

      “But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So, they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard.

     “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.  Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone that the builders rejected

    has now become the cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing,

    and it is wonderful to see.”

 The religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

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     As Mark tells the gospel story, Jesus remained in the temple nearly all day and continued teaching. He watched the people dropping money into the collection box and commented on the woman who put in only 2 pennies.   Jesus told his disciples, v.43 “this poor widow has given more than all the others have given.  For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

     As Jesus was leaving the temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these tremendous buildings! Look at the massive stones in the walls!”

     Jesus replied, “These magnificent buildings will be so completely demolished that not one stone will be left on top or another.”

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     The pace is quickening as Jesus moves forward in Holy Week.  There is so much he still wants to teach the people.  The disciples have many questions.  Many will be answered when they reflect on them after the resurrection.

     I think it is striking that Jesus welcomes so many questions.  Many powerful people refuse to be bothered with questions.  They aren’t willing to help others understand and rarely entertain any thought that they could be wrong.

     Jesus is open and inviting to his disciples and to us.  He wants us to come to him in prayer with all our questions.  Not one question is too trivial, or too “stupid” or too presumptuous to ask. And if one question answered leads to another to be asked, God welcomes us to continue our dialogue until we are satisfied. I find the questions continue for a lifetime.

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, your disciples call you rabbi because you teach us the truth about life.  Thank you for inviting us to come close to learn all you want us to understand. Our faith and trust in your teaching leads us to lives of freedom and grace.  May our curiosity never end.    Amen.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Dear friends,

What a week we are beginning!  I am so thankful that Holy Week falls on this very week.  There are so many upsetting events and unanswered questions this week in our world, it will be good to look at the upsetting events and unanswered questions from the week before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

   Here is the reading for today:  Luke 19:41-48.

     (The day after Palm Sunday) Jesus came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.  Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

    Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

   After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him.

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     Once again, just as he had at Lazarus’ grave, Jesus weeps.  This time it is not for a specific person but for all of Jerusalem, indeed, for all of humanity.  He knows Jerusalem hasn’t yet learned his message of peace, and so he exclaims that now peace will not come to Jerusalem.

     Then Jesus enters the temple, and once again his emotions are showing.  This time he is feeling great anger.  Its amazing that he wasn’t arrested for overturning the tables and driving away people who played an essential part in the temple business of selling sacrifices.  After all, the temple had their own police force.

     Sometimes anger is categorized as a sin. That is generally when it is directed towards a single person, and we don’t have any recourse that doesn’t include harming that person.  But Jesus is angry at a system, at a way of life that is an example of false worship.  Jesus is angry at people who come to spend big money on sacrifices, without a corresponding change of heart, and at the people who sell them with a huge profit margin.

Let us pray:

O Jesus, may we be angry at the things that cause injustice and harm to your people. And then may we act.  May we do what Jesus calls us to do to confront the systems, the institutions and “life as we know it” that are destructive to the world and its people that you created.

   As we start this final week of Lent remind us to focus on you. When we spend this week thinking and praying about you we will be overjoyed to celebrate your resurrection.