A lot of preachers take Monday off. I know, I know, there’s the old saw about how a preacher only works one day a week, so he not only takes Mondays off but the rest of the week as well. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one …
I don’t take Mondays off, at least as a rule. I’m like Bill Self, a pastor in Atlanta, Ga. He is credited with having said that he doesn’t take Mondays off because he doesn’t want to feel that bad on his own time. Truth be told, not a lot generally happens on Monday. It’s a good day to get back in the saddle, to reflect on what has just occurred in worship, to put the past to bed, so to speak, then to start planning for the next Sunday. That is how a preacher’s week goes … from Sunday to Sunday.
A lot has happened on the Sunday before Jesus’ Friday crucifixion. He has made his triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. He has been hailed by many, if not all, as the king of the Jews, the coming Messiah. And in the process, as Matthew puts it in his gospel, he has “all the city stirred.” All the while the religious establishment has stood by watching and fuming, watching and waiting, until they can get their time in with him ”their time at him ”to show the people who he really is, to reveal him for the charlatan he really is, to plot out their plans for his demise.
It is now Monday and things have settled down just a bit, though there is still a spark in the air. We need to know that this little encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders comes off “in a context of controversy and tension.” The chief priests and elders, as Matthew refers to them, are trying to pick up the pieces from yesterday’s parade. They’re hearing a lot of talk in town, and they don’t like what they hear. The Nazarene has garnered too much positive attention, and around these parts that kind of attention can quickly lead to an uprising. If there is one thing they don’t want, and certainly don’t need, it’s an uprising … if for no other reason than the full forces of the Roman army are poised and ready at every turn. And when the Romans start clamping down, they don’t check for identification papers to see if you are their friend or their enemy. They’ll take care of matters and not worry one bit about who gets hurt. The religious leaders can’t have that, so they are left with only one choice. It may be Monday, but they’ve got to take care of this right now. They can’t afford to wait any longer.
So, they decide to confront Jesus directly. In the temple. They don’t necessarily want to do it in the temple because, after all, it is the house of the Lord. But at least there will be witnesses, and right now they need all the witnesses they can get. And it’s their domain. They rule the temple. It’s their responsibility, and I can understand that.
I remember the morning a few years when I came to the church office after getting an estimate on my car. I had had a fender bender that morning and I was carrying my irritation pretty close to the surface. I found two large pickup trucks ”and I do mean big trucks ”parked in the church designated area just here on the east side of the sanctuary where we have four parking places. We had just had that area repaired.
These trucks were not parked parallel, as the area is marked. The drivers had pulled in at right angles with their front wheels resting on the grass and their tailgates sticking out halfway on Cedar Street. The two drivers were talking.
I parked across Kavanaugh in the Cedar Street lot and walked over. As I did so, I inquired as to whether they worked for the company that had done our paving repairs. “No,” said one of them between puffs on his cigarette. “We just saw each other and pulled in here to talk awhile.”
Did I mention that my irritation level was on the surface? I suggested they take their conversation somewhere else since they were parked illegally on church property and were blocking traffic. I mean, somebody needs to stand guard over this place, don’t you think?
That’s how the chief priests and elders felt about their temple. Besides, that’s where Jesus is, and if they’re going to reveal him for what he is, they’ll just have to do it in the temple.
When they find him, they ask him point-blank, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you the authority?” Put yourself in their sandals and you realize they had a pretty good point in asking this question. After all, he’s been doing some pretty outrageous stuff. What do they mean by “these things”? Are they talking about the miracles, the feedings and healings and such stuff as that? Could be. But maybe not.
Look at it this way …
Randy Hyde is senior pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. He holds degrees from Ouachita Baptist University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is married to Janet, and they have two grown children, Emily and Timothy.