• Holy Week: Chapter 2: Monday in Holy Week

    by  • 5 April 2020 • Extract, Holy Week, Religion, The Christian Community • 0 Comments

    Here at Floris Books, we want to do all we can to support our community during these difficult times. To that end, we’re sharing a new chapter of Emil Bock’s Holy Week: A Spiritual Guide from Palm Sunday to Easter for every day of the 2020 Easter Holy Week. Check back each day for the next entry.

    Holy Week will guide you from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It will help bring the events of Easter alive, and provides opportunities for prayer and contemplation. Each day is accompanied by a gospel reading.

    As a special thank you for joining us throughout the week, we are also offering 20% discount on copies of the book when you order from our website. Simply enter special offer code HW0420 at checkout.

    Mark 11:12–25

    The fig tree

    (12) And on the next day when they left Bethany again, he felt hunger. (13) And from a distance he saw a fig tree in full leaf, and he went to see if he could find fruits on it. And when he came up to the tree he found nothing but leaves; and indeed it was not the season for figs. (14) And in response he said to the tree, ‘Never again in any age to come shall anyone eat of your fruits!’ And his disciples heard these words.

    Cleansing the Temple

    (15) And they came to Jerusalem. And he went into the Temple and he began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the Temple; he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the chairs of those who sold doves, (16) and he did not allow vessels to be carried through the Temple. (17) And he taught them and said, ‘Is it not written:

    My house shall be called a house of prayer among all peoples?

    But you have made it a den of robbers.’ (18) When the chief priests and the scribes heard this, they wondered how they might destroy him. They were afraid of him because all the people were enraptured by his teaching. (19) And when evening came he went out of the town.

    (20) In the morning when they passed by they saw that the fig tree had withered right down to its roots. (21) Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Master, see! The fig tree which you cursed has withered.’ (22) And Jesus said to them, ‘Through the power of faith you can unite with God. (23) Yes, I say to you: Whoever then shall say to this mountain: Rise up and throw yourself into the sea, and has no doubt in his heart but rather is confident that his word will be effective, he will experience that it will happen. (24) Therefore I say to you: Everything towards which you direct the power of prayer in your inner striving will be granted to you, if only you have full confidence that you can achieve it.

    (25) ‘But when you prepare to pray, if you are holding a grudge in your heart against anyone, first forgive; then your Father who is in the heavens can also forgive you your strayings.’

    Monday in Holy Week

    There is a certain quiet place which even today is shrouded in mystery. It is upon the road which every morning and every evening of Holy Week was traversed by Jesus and his disciples, whether leaving the city for Bethany in the evening or returning to Jerusalem in the morning. Crossing the summit of the Mount of Olives, coming from Jerusalem, and slowly descending the other side towards the valley, where from the depths of the Judean wilderness glitters the sub-earthly mirror of the Dead Sea, one comes to a spot surrounded by high walls. It lies halfway between the Mount of Olives and Bethany. Black cypresses rise above the walls and point heavenward like solemn beacons. In the time of Jesus there was a little settlement here, Bethphage, the House of Figs. This village was not like other villages. A group of persons led there a life in common, united by a special spiritual tie. The simple huts in which they probably dwelt were surrounded by a hedge of fig trees which gave the place its name. These fig trees, however, were not mere bearers of fruit; they were sacred to the people who lived there, visible symbols of their special training for the spirit. These were people who sought to preserve in their circle a spiritual mystery of the past, the same mystery which is hinted at in the story of Nathanael. The group at Bethphage cultivated a condition of supersensory sight which was called ‘sitting under the fig tree.’ It was attained by means of meditative exercises, supported partly by special postures of the body.

    It was from Bethphage that in the early hours of Palm Sunday Jesus instructed Peter and John to fetch the ass and her colt. For just as there were trees there which were held as sacred, so too were these animals. The asses kept there were no beasts of burden; they, too, symbolized a mystery. The memory still lived of the magician Baalam who was called from Babylon to curse the Israelites and prevent them from entering the Land of Promise. Baalam was pictured in the Old Testament as riding on an ass. But it was known that the phrase had a hidden meaning: it referred to a definite state of soul. It was really a somnambulent withdrawal from consciousness in which formerly the Babylonian magician began to speak. Baalam spoke out of a kind of spiritual possession, not from his human consciousness, and without his knowing how it came about the magic curse which he was to utter became a blessing instead. The sacred animals harboured at Bethphage indicate that the supersensory vision cultivated there was somnambulistic and bound to the physical body. Right into modern times the ass often appears in fairy tales as the imaginative representative of the physical human body.

    The ass’s colt upon which Christ rode into the holy city on Palm Sunday belongs to the realm of memories associated with Bethphage. But as he rode boldly into the city on the sacred white beast, there was no repetition of the Baalam condition of ‘riding on the ass;’ it was the crowd who, beholding him, fell into the ecstatic withdrawal from ordinary consciousness. It was as though a language of Baalam gripped the people­ as they cried Hosanna to the one who rode upon the ass’s colt.

    When the day drew towards evening, Jesus went to Bethany with his disciples to rest, as also on the following days. In the night the echo of popular ecstasy with its Hosannas echoed in his soul. And when next morning they passed by Bethphage on the way to Jerusalem, neither he nor his disciples remained unchanged by what had taken place. There was something deeply earnest in the bearing of the Christ, something inexorable. Then comes the enigmatic approach to the fig tree. The disciples wondered why Jesus should expect to gather figs, when it is not their season. And they heard him speak the strangely harsh words: ‘Never again shall fruit ripen on you in all ages.’ Perhaps they dimly felt in this moment that something greater lay in the words than just a statement about the tree and its fruitfulness. But the scales did not fall from their eyes.

    And now in Jerusalem the disciples pass a day with the Christ in which many dramatic scenes follow each other. As their Master sets foot on the threshold of the Temple precincts, chaos breaks out. Everywhere there is panic and terror; tables are overturned, money rolls across the ground. It is a reversal of the ecstatic jubilation of yesterday.

    Then the night is again spent at Bethany, and the next morning Jesus and his disciples come by Bethphage at dawn. There the sight of the withered tree suddenly confronts them, and the disciples ask Jesus to explain it to them. It was no crude miracle, as though Jesus through his angry word of power had robbed a creature of its existence. How could he have destroyed a tree belonging to the people who had willingly placed at his disposal the ass and the ass’s colt! No, it was a spiritual act, denoting an important moment in the mystery of Holy Week.

    The signal for the decisive battle had already been given through the awakening of Lazarus. But it was on Palm Sunday that the full being of the Christ was revealed and it was this that stirred men’s souls. But this moment had also its simple human meaning. Jesus, as other devout people, was going to the Temple for prayer and sacrifice in preparation for the Passover. But a foreboding of great decision had seized him. Things could no longer go on painlessly, as in the past. The Christ sees that mere enthusiasm is superficial and untrustworthy, but as yet he is not constrained to repulse it. That he cannot directly reprove the people is shown next day by a similar scene before the Temple. This time it is children who cry out Hosanna. When his enemies ask maliciously, ‘Do you hear what they are saying?,’ he replies, ‘Yes, have you never read: By the mouth of children and newborn infants I am praised?’ (Matt.21:16).

    But now the night at Bethany has come between and there is a certain contrast with the mood of Palm Sunday. He approaches the fig tree at Bethphage and wishes to show the disciples how little value should be attached to the Hosanna of the previous day. All that it represented was the last fruits of the old visionary clairvoyance, given by nature, and bound to the body. The words he addresses to the fig tree are, as it were, a challenge to the whole realm of ancient ecstatic vision. Here a momentous decision is made in the history of humanity. Jesus rejects the Hosannas of the people, and himself brings about the transition to their cry, ‘Crucify him.’ He has the courage himself to summon the spiritual blindness through which the people will fanatically demand his death. Humanity must act out of a consciousness that leads to freedom, even if it means tragedy; even if men in their spiritual blindness nail him on the cross.

    When the fig tree of Bethphage is seen again by the disciples on the morning of Tuesday, a wholesome disenchantment has come over them. They see the withered tree, just there on the spot which they have always treated with veneration. They receive teaching from Jesus which serves as a prelude to what they will hear from him in the evening hour on the Mount of Olives. Then they are led to realize that some day there will be a new sight for humankind, and that faith is to be the germ of this. Jesus says to his disciples: ‘Yes, I say to you, if you have the power of faith without wavering, then you will not only bring forth the fruit of the fig tree, but you will be able to say to this mountain: Rise up and throw yourself into the sea, and it will be so.’ There will be no barrier before you; the mountain of the sense world which bars your sight will disappear. Through the rocky stone of earthly existence you will see the true nature of things permeated by divine thought. The power of faith will bring to maturity in the human heart the eye of the new vision. The Sermon on the Mount speaks of this: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ But in between the old moon-vision, no longer serviceable, and the new sunlike vision of the heart, there lies a time of darkness, of blindness to the spirit. And in this stage of blindness Christ will be nailed on the cross.

    On that Monday in Holy Week Christ rejects a temptation. Had he allied himself with the ancient clairvoyant forces, he might have found public recognition. Not only would people have cried Hosanna; they would have crowned him king. But a final pronouncement is made: Christ will form no link with the ancient forces. His sole aim is that humanity should find the way to awakening and freedom. It is no unloving curse that he utters on the fig trees of those who had lent him the ass and its colt. He acts purely from the nature of his own being. He is the sun, and when the sun rises, the moon perforce grows pale. So the moon-forces of the old vision fade away.

    The Christ appears before the Temple. Many hundreds of pilgrims have assembled, and around the Temple buying and selling, trading and bargaining are being carried on. In the Temple itself a feverish activity prevails; sacrificial beasts are needed for the festival, the Passover lamb must be slaughtered. This is a source of business; for the animals have to be bought before they are sacrificed. Old Annas, the notorious miser of world history, knows how to make a profit. He has already made a vast fortune from this market. He has been the wire-puller in the political compromise with the Romans which is the basis of the Temple business. The pilgrims must change their local currency into the official currency which is valid in the Temple. This is Roman currency. Thus the Temple comprises also a Roman Exchange market. The Roman fiscal officers have been admitted to the Temple, although they were representatives of the cult of Caesar, because it was hoped by this compromise to keep them at least out of the Holy of Holies.

    Now Christ comes on the scene. He is coming to fulfil the custom of the feast. But the fire of his burning will has its effect. There is no need for him to say much. The people are immediately seized with panic. Terror-stricken, they realize into what decadence they have fallen. Something similar had taken place at the feast of the Passover, three years before. At that time the terrifying effect came from the divine nature of the Christ, despite the conscious restraint which was still exercised by Jesus. But now the divinity is entirely transformed into humanity; it has become intensity of will. He has the right to tear down the mask of decadence of the Temple.

    The sun of Christ shines, and the glimmer of the moon must fade away on the moon-hill of Mount Moriah. The spectres of the night flee from the sun. In place of a magnificent Temple appears a simple room on Mount Zion. There, in the Last Supper, the seed of a new ritual and worship, a sunlike sacrament, will be sown. The moon-religion of antiquity will be superseded on the evening of Maundy Thursday, when on the sun-hill of Mount Zion, Christ gives bread and wine to his disciples.

    Continue to Chapter 3: Tuesday in Holy Week

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