Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ ” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

- Luke 21:37-22:13

The great Passover festival approaches, significant here for so many reasons we can try to understand. I think it's no coincidence that just prior to this period of the Passover, Jesus has been discussing his return and the prediction of the desolation of the temple. We are stepping into a period of cataclysmic events, all profoundly tied in spiritual significance through prophecy and through Jesus himself, his life and his teachings. The Mount of Olives, or Olivet, I read in commentary, was a place where pilgrims stayed who came to Jerusalem for Passover, when the city overflowed with people. So Jesus' night encampment is with fellow pilgrims who've come to the city for the Passover festival. As at his birth, this is a "time of no room." As was the case with his birth, and as he lived his life of ministry, Jesus stays with those who have nowhere else to stay, no formal roof over their heads. He is the outsider, and it is in great part the outsiders - those outside the formal structures of power - who hang onto his words and are held by his teachings.

But he doesn't stay on the Mount of Olives (or Mount Olivet) to teach. He goes to the temple to teach. Despite lack of formal authority, he goes every day early in the morning to this central place of worship, this beautiful sprawling temple, and teaches there. I read descriptions of the temple and it must have been extraordinarily beautiful, a splendid place, of immense construction, and unimaginable that it could be destroyed as it was.

But of course, Jesus' words about corruption hit home. His popularity with the crowds who come to hear him teach tells us, to my mind, about the connection that Spirit makes within people. To this day, we understand the pull of the Spirit: when we hear words that seem to us true, that speak beyond a seamless image that everything is well and fine, and we know it is not. Nothing has changed, if you ask me, about this nature of Spirit and of truth, that it cuts through all things and goes to our hearts. We don't know what it would or could have been like to stand in the presence of this Jesus himself, alive in the world as Son of Man, but we do know the electrifying quality of truth when we hear it - of something that commands our loyalties despite all appearances contrary to its message. And I imagine the crowds who were glad to hear his teaching made an impact on those who were his targets for criticism.

One other person who was criticized by Jesus (also over an issue in dealing with money) was Judas Iscariot, his apostle. In the story of the woman who broke an expensive jar of ointment in order to bathe Jesus' feet, we are told that the woman was criticized for wasting something that could be sold and given to the poor. Jesus rebukes those who criticize her, because the woman has acted out of great love. This story appears in all four gospels, but the specific critic of the woman is named in John's gospel as Judas Iscariot. We've also been told that Judas was the treasurer for the apostles and this early church of followers, so it would make sense that he'd be the one to complain about the expense and criticize the woman. Although Jesus' rebukes to all of the apostles seem to occur at one time or another and for various reasons, here I believe we may come to understand its possible effect on Judas. A native of Jerusalem and presumably of some sort of family of rank, we may possibly understand or surmise that Judas was unhappy with the direction of Jesus' ministry to begin with. Perhaps he had other expectations for its outcome and direction. I am just speculating. But I do think the turning point lies here in a response to rebuke. And that's where an important lesson starts.

In the archetypal stories of a rebellion in heaven, a rebellion against God and the authority of Christ, we are given to understand that Lucifer's rebellion occurs chiefly because of envy. Who is this Christ, whence comes his authority? Over and over again, it seems, in the stories of the bible, we're warned about envy and its effects and consequences. This goes to the intentions in the heart of each of us, an understanding about human relations. So we are told here, also, of the envy of the powers that be in Jerusalem, especially because of the following of Jesus by the crowds who listen to his teaching. Do we listen to a true rebuke in the spirit in which it's given?

Don't we all know people who have our best interest at heart, as well as those who'd rejoice in our shortcomings and failures? I believe that it's essential to understand these passages and the psychological motivations within ourselves in terms of these archetypal realities about the human psyche, about our souls. Everything seems to be combined into intention; it all begins and ends there. A reasonable misunderstanding is something quite different from deliberate malice. A great joy in shared success different from the envy that may shape our response. As we go toward these cataclysmic events we read about in the passages of the bible, I think we do best to turn to our own hearts and understand its meanings in terms of telling us about who we are as humans, and what it means to be a human being. Our ultimate understanding comes from this encounter with truth within ourselves: can we love it and embrace it? or do we resent the one who says it? Is a criticism given in the spirit of love, or of envy and rejection? I ask these questions today because I think they're pertinent, and how we live our lives comes down to these crucial questions. The archetypal sins of spiritual literature - at least in our tradition we're discussing - are there for a reason, to teach us about ourselves and our nature. Whatever we read in these gospels and in these texts - both Old and New Testament - is, in the end, all about us, about the reality we embrace and share and how we live in it, what we do with it, how we embrace it.

Finally, the day of Unleavened Bread is here in our reading. To this day, an essential part of the Passover celebration is this remembrance of the time when the people of Israel had to flee, leaving no time for the rising of the bread. So it is at this point in Luke's gospel, that we are aware of warnings that this time will come again - for Jerusalem, and for each of us. We prepare for that day by being vigilant about what's in our hearts and how we choose to relate to the world - and to the truth about what we may need to do or to be, or how we might need to make an internal change.

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