The Bible and Culture

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The day had come and the time was at hand for Jesus to do something he had never done before— make a grand entrance into a city, and not just any city but Jerusalem, by elevating himself above the crowds. But he would do so on a beast of burden, the foal of a donkey, not on a war charger. As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a foal tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Master needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ “

They went and found a foal outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that animal?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go, for they knew that Jesus was a friend of the owner of the animal, Eliezer.

When they brought the foal to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread palm branches they had cut in the fields. The palm branches had become a familiar symbol, a reminder of the victory celebration when the Maccabees had retaken Jerusalem in battle. Those who went ahead and those who followed were singing the psalms of ascents, the pilgrimage psalms, and praising G-d saying
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, taking in all the activities going on there, including all the trading and money changing operations but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. The disciples were filled with both anticipation and fear. Judas especially was excited, for he thought, after Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, like the prophecy in Zechariah had foretold about the coming King, that Jesus would now claim his throne, and throw the Romans out of Judea. Surely the yoke of the oppressor was about to be broken, as Isaiah had foretold so long ago.

It was six days before the Passover, when Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Eliezer lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Eliezer was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Miryam took about a pint of pure nard, the most expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this primarily because he cared about the poor but because he was the keeper of the money bag. He used to help himself to what was put into it, setting money aside for the revolt he believed was imminent.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied with emphasis “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Meanwhile a large crowd of Judeans found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Eliezer, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Eliezer as well, for on account of him many of the Judeans were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

The next morning as they were leaving Eliezer’s house in Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for the sweet figs which came in the fall, but even in the spring one could expect there to be the male fruit on the tree. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem this morning, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And he spoke a prophetic word saying, “Is it not written:
” ‘My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”

Then some of the Judeans there demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove you have authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them enigmatically, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard about this and redoubled their efforts to find a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. But Jesus had far too large a following for them to act in broad daylight especially with hundreds of thousands pilgrims present for the Passover Festival. So they began to look for an opportune moment to do something at night time.

The next morning, as Jesus and the disciples went along the same road into Jerusalem from Bethany, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Simon remembered and said to Jesus, “Master, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in G-d,” Jesus answered. “Amen I say to you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

They arrived again in Jerusalem at Mt. Zion, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from humans? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From humans’….” for they feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” And Jesus boldly continued to teach in the Temple courts drawing enormous crowds. On this day, especially because there were so many Galileans present with him, Jesus chose to tell the sort of parables they so much enjoyed and relished.

“Tell me what you think.” Said Jesus to the authorities present, “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

” ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Amen I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of G-d ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” he replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
” ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the keystone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of G-d will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They fumed, and looked for a way to arrest him, but they continued to be afraid of the crowd because the people held that Jesus was a prophet. So they did nothing on that day,