How did Jesus’ words strike to the heart?

Returning to Jesus and the moneylenders …

You weren’t the only one who marveled at how this Jesus could strike at the heart of the situation with a single declaration. You looked around at the murmurings. You could sense the fear of the priests, but the utmost awe of the pilgrims and worshippers. This man spoke to the heart, he expressed what others could only vaguely imagine, with words spoken in boldness. They won’t take this lying down, you sense, as the priests milled together in shared annoyance.

One single phrase. "'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers’".

Yet the mind of the listener was able to make the connections. They would firstly understand the true purpose of the Temple, from the words of the prophet Isaiah. They would also have been familiar with Jeremiah’s condemnation of how low things had sunk.  Then they would have understood the warning that the ultimate fate of the Temple and the priesthood would be as it was at the time of Samuel, with the loss of the Ark at Shiloh.

This was how it was, it wasn’t an illusion. Rather, it was all an allusion, a teaching style used by Jesus, along with other rabbis of his day. Working on the premise that the hearers were thoroughly familiar with key Scriptures, it used connections between different Scriptures to make a point. A modern day allusion would make use of sound-bites fed to us by the media that are as familiar to us as the Old Testament scriptures were to a First Century Jew.

“We were told ‘no whitewash’, but we ended up with Iraq-gate”

Anyone with an interest in political history would immediately understand this. The quote alluded to is the “no whitewash at the White House” declaration by President Nixon, just before his lies caught him out in the Watergate scandal. The Iraq-gate is a reference to the habit of adding “gate” to any political scandal, as an allusion to the greatest scandal of the lot, the aforementioned “Watergate” scandal. So, in this case it’s a double allusion, referring to the corruptions in American politics by making two references to Watergate.

Another allusion is found in the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. After his friends ingeniously lowered him through a hole in the roof, Jesus turned to him and said:

“Son, your sins are forgiven”.

That’s it. That was enough to send signals to the watching Pharisees, “He’s blaspheming”, they thought to themselves, “who can forgive sins but God alone?”

On the surface this seems straight-forward and simple enough for us to follow, but it isn’t. There was a subtle allusion in this short declaration by Jesus.

The key is in the forgiving. Throughout the Old Testament the usual word for this, is used in the active sense of “I forgive you …”, in the sense of people interacting with each other. The only place this is not so is in a passage in Leviticus, when it is used in the passive sense, of “being forgiven …”

“… In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven.” (Leviticus 4:35)

This is the sense used by Jesus to the paralytic and he was offering forgiveness to the man as if he was God Himself. Hence the condemnation.


A den of robbers ...

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