Here’s a new one in our series on Justice and Theology, brilliant as ever from J Foster.
Since we last chatted here I’ve had a pretty amazing holiday in Cuba. My wife, Gemma, and I like to visit places where we can discover new stuff as well as relax; thankfully we managed both on this holiday and I saw enough sunshine to lose my standard pasty-white complexion (just!) whilst discovering that I like Pollo Con Quimbobó y Platanos (google it).
Perhaps more significantly, we had a chance to find out loads of stuff about life in a communist country. Now this isn’t a political blog, so I’m not going to get into it, but there is something fantastic about a country that has the ideal that everyone is equal and all should be provided for, right at the centre of how the country is set up.
In Luke 4, at the outset of his ministry, Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth when he somehow ended up giving the sermon that week. He read from Isaiah 61 and spoke of God’s heart to see justice, freedom and compassion before declaring that the time for that to happen was now. I’ve heard some amazing preachers over the years and I love coming away from church feeling that buzz of inspiration, but I wonder how the people in that synagogue felt – their hearts burning from what they’d heard and thinking about those words.
Fast forward a couple of years and we find Jesus heading for the Temple of Jerusalem, the very heart of Israel’s identity and spirituality, and there is a very different scene.
As Mark 11 describes it, Jesus was walking with his disciples when he was hungry and saw a fig tree. He went over to it but it had no figs
on it – that was not surprising as it wasn’t the time of year for figs (it would be like expecting to see an apple on an apple tree in January!) – but Jesus gets really cross about it and curses it!
A little harsh and slightly weird, but ok…
They carry on walking and head for the Temple and when they enter the Temple’s courtyards there is the usual hustle and bustle of people selling animals and birds to be used in sacrifices to God and again something extraordinary happens.
Jesus seems to snap.
He starts smashing the place up, throwing stuff around and shouting at people, quoting Jeremiah.
When I picture that scene I see the disciples, open mouthed, staring at Jesus and then turning to one another before looking back at Jesus… What on earth is he doing?!
When things settle down they get out of there and walk along the road back past the fig tree that’s now dead…
So, what’s the connection between those two episodes?
By quoting Isaiah at the outset of his public ministry, Jesus was drawing people’s attention to the fact that equality, wholeness and freedom from sin and its effects defines life in the Kingdom – that’s justice. Injustice is the process of barriers being put in the way of people entering that life. Jesus wasn’t outraged at traders selling animals in the Temple; they did that so people who travelled long distances to offer sacrifices didn’t have to bring an animal with them but could buy one when they arrived. The problem was that people saw a chance to make money. Prices went up and the poor were being priced out of the market resulting in them being prevented from connecting with God.
A massive barrier had been put up in the Temple, the very place God established to bring reconciliation and wholeness to His people. The tree was not bearing the fruit that the hungry desperately needed and Jesus demonstrated through both his actions in the Temple courts and in the fate of the fig-tree what he thinks about it.
There are so many places in the gospels that we could look – the physical healings, casting out of demons, the challenge of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) and the less than subtle passage in Matthew 25:31-46.
Barriers crashing down, all over the place.
People being led towards wholeness and freedom with the call for us to join in the job of tearing barriers down, setting people free and being made whole in the process.
In the next few months we’re going to take a look at some of the implications this has for us both as the Church and as individuals; in the meantime take some time to think about the barriers you see around you. Not just in society at large, but in the Church, perhaps even barriers that we may put in other peoples’ paths through the everyday choices we make and our attitudes to others.
Take some time out to ask Jesus to show you what those might be and how you can start to change them. I promise you that I will do the same and we’ll see where it takes us…
Would love to hear your thoughts,