As we near Holy Week, Christians are called to pray, reflect, and reverently contemplate the Passion. Different versions of the Holy Bible always evoke questions for me. Here are my thoughts, today, about a particular verse in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 11.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. Mark 11:17 KJVA.
This tells me that everywhere, throughout the world, the temple of God, in Jerusalem, is considered by all as a sacred place. We are to understand that all nations regard that temple as a house of God. But, in my analysis of some other versions, do we perhaps see other meanings?
And as he taught them, he said, “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.’ ” Mark 11:17 NIV.
“Of all nations”, “for all nations”, and a rearrangement of the word sequence.
The New International Version is quite popular today. And, in the Red Letters, we see Jesus as quoted saying something that could be interpreted as entirely different. Being a house of prayer for all nations indicates neutral territory–a place where peoples of any and all nationalities can call home. At a time when the city of Jerusalem was occupied by the Roman Empire, and also with the understanding that it was illegal for Jews to mingle with Samaritans, this statement from Jesus changes the game.
And, Jesus was definitely amping up his game. He had been travelling, and the team was hungry. In a moment of frustration, He cursed a fig tree that, through no fault of its own, wasn’t in season. They went on to the temple and His temper finally boiled over. This was a holy man, devoted to God and mankind, who was experiencing the fever pitch of His ministry and His mission. It was now or never, and there was not a single teaching moment to be missed.
Back to the verse comparison. The King James with Apocrypha version indicates that the world recognizes the temple in Jerusalem the way it should be recognized–as a place of God to be regardeI with awe. The New International Version describes it as a place of God, where all are welcomed. The first translation, KJVA does not specifically say that all are not welcome, but the wording in the NIV seems to clearly indocate that they are.
Why is this important? Perhaps it is important only to me, and perhaps I am “reading too much into it”. I’ve been told that more than a few times. My question now evokes some thought about what is meant by “nations”. America has been described as a nation. In fact, the United States has been touted as a Christian nation, living under the rule of Christian values and the teachings of the Old and New Testaments.
But when I hear or read references to the Nation of Israel, I don’t necessarily understand that to be geographically designated. Borders, especially now in the age of the extremely divisive issue of a wall across the southern border of the United States, are central to the question. The Oxford dictionary definition of “nation” is somewhat vague as well. It defines the word as
“A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.‘the world’s leading industrialized nations’. (See the full definition here: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/nation.)
So then, can we not consider any cultural group as a nation? Did the same type of geographical boundaries exist then, as they do now? In some cases, yes. But are these defined borders sanctioned by God? Where else in the Bible do we see ambiguous teachings about isolationism, borders, and also fluid acceptance and freedom of movement? These are my questions. And as a “nation”, can we not consider our territory as a temple of God? Do we not often hear politicians and citizens alike refer to the United States as a “Christian Nation”? Then, wouldn’t that definition extend to unity among all such believers everywhere?
Or, can we at least acknowledge the sanctity of the temple as a safe haven for all, regardless of beliefs or doctrine? And where exactly, is this temple located? Is it only the ancient Hebrew temple of Jerusalem? Or does it encompass holy santuaries constructed all over the world? Such are my reflections during Lent.
The Fransiscan Media has an interesting article on its website, covering in greater detail the division between Jews and Samaritans. It contains some great insights and valuable historical research as well…worth the read!
Feel free to respond and share your views.
With great love,
Click here to order your copy of Pray Without Ceasing, Essays and Godwinks, by Robin P. Currie.