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Lent Three - A Revolution of Love

Jesus comes overturning not only the money changers tables in the Temple but all our carefully constructed systems of merit, identity, status and conditional belonging. (Lent Three. John 2:13-22) Jesus seems less interested in incremental reformation of our way of doing religious life than he is in a revolution of love and connection to the divine and one another.


You may wish to read what I wrote three years ago or my reflections in the Third Week of the Lent course.

 



For several decades I was a good and dedicated public servant. And since I have been an obedient servant of the church. And while I long for change and improvement my natural inclination is toward incremental seamless change. But in truth that is not what I see being described in the story of disturbance in the temple – tables are tipped over, animals waiting to be sacrificed are scattered and set free, and coins go flying. Jesus drives the money changers out with a whip of cords. This does not look like modest reform but a revolutionary declaration. No wonder it is the religious leadership together with the secular powers that arrest, try and put to death this Jesus who makes it clear he is on a collision course with the current ways of doing life and religion.

 

Let us explore this potentially alarming claim at three levels – firstly in the text about the historical life of Jesus; secondly as a reflection on religion before and after the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; and thirdly something of what it might mean within the life of each and every follower of Jesus on the Way.

 

This event – the overturning of the tables in the Temple – is described in all four gospels. In the synoptic gospels it is situated at the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. Here in John’s gospel it is at the beginning of his ministry. All of them are of course in Jerusalem and at the time of Passover. It is presented as part of the reason that Jesus and the authorities are on a collision course. As always Jesus is critiquing the religious system and its leadership not the essence of his own Jewish tradition. (This is really important because Christianity has so often used Scripture as an excuse to attack Judaism itself and engage in hate crimes against Jewish peoples. And at this moment in current affairs we need to be very careful not to collude with any stirrings of mistrust or abuse in the community.)

 

So what is Jesus upset about? Certainly there is a suggestion that there might be corruption in the conduct of money changers and others but even more likely is that the very system itself has been corrupted or lost in its direction and focus. Jesus does not suggest that the Temple should not exist but that it should be a house of prayer.

 

And Jesus turns from the literal Temple he has just thrown into disarray to his own life and refers to himself as the temple that will be rebuilt in three days. Afterwards of course his disciples remember and understand that he was speaking of his death and resurrection. Jesus is also describing the movement from the external to the internal, the corporate to the personal, and the religious to the spiritual.

 

Which leads us to reflect on what was and might be overturned in religion by this event and Jesus himself. We who follow Jesus the Christ claim that time can be divided into before his birth and after his death: that something hugely significant changed with his life, teachings, death and resurrection. One way of understanding this is that Jesus marked the completion and ending of the need for physical sacrificial religion. After all, we say in the thanksgiving prayer that Jesus offered himself once for all, and that his death was the one perfect sufficient death for the sins of the whole world. And if this sounds controversial remember that prophets and psalmists of the Hebrew Bible often understood God to say that heaven was stunk up with endless burnt offerings when what was really required was a contrite heart and changed behaviour. (And by the time John’s gospel was written the Temple had indeed ceased to be the center of Judaism and sacrifice due to the razing of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire.) It is not that true religion does not require sacrifice but that ritualised physical sacrifice is not what is required. (Closer to Easter we will explore more about the difference between notions of payment and sacrifice.)

 

And thirdly, we who would count ourselves companions on the Way of Jesus who especially in Lent seek to draw near and attend to his journey and imitate him in our lives, need to wonder what this story means for us. If this is indeed a story about revolution and overthrow rather than just the equivalent of Jesus having a temper tantrum because our bedroom is a mess and we haven’t finished our homework, what is being asked of us? I suspect that yes there are particular aspects of our life that need tidying up and improving. But much more than that some of our most desperately clung to assumptions and patterns, the very building blocks of our identity and status, our life rafts and anchors, need overthrowing! By which I mean our ego, our tightly culturally held conventions and practice, our preferences and aspirations, as well as our fears and doubts, our shame and yearnings, all need to be loosened from our grasp. Not because they are necessarily bad in themselves, although some might be, but because there needs to be room and availability and enough emptiness that we desire change and growth. There needs to be room for God and for others in our crowded inner temples.

 

For this, I believe, is a revolution of love and inclusion and healing and acceptance not an obstacle course for the supreme spiritual athlete!!! Jesus the companion of the outcast and dubious, the sick and untouchable, the ordinary and the curious, is not rearranging the Temple to make it harder to gain access but to remove impediments to those who desire to enter in and pray but don’t have the right coin or sacrifice! Yes the journey itself will ask sacrifice of all of us and will lead into sacrifice and self giving until we are empty of everything but love. But entrance and invitation is not, I am utterly convinced, dependent on worthiness, cleverness, even certainty.

 

Jesus, we believe, was the divine made flesh so that we ordinary ones might know that God had always been bending down, leaning toward us, inviting us into communion. Jesus came to us on the road, on the steps of the Temple, under olive trees on a hill, by the lake, in darkened sick rooms, and around tables of bread and wine so that we might know we are seen, that we matter, and that we belong. And so of course do our neighbours.

Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, and grant us the courage to invite you into the temple of our hearts and there to make room for you.

 

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