Tuesday 3 March 2015

Loving Words and Strong Actions

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Lent 3B: Loving Words and Strong Actions

 This Sundays scripture readings could make some people feel uncomfortable. The first from Exodus (20: 1-17) contains what is usually called "The Ten Commandments." In the Hebrew text they are not called "Commandments," but the "Ten Words." Our spiritual ancestors saw them not so much as laws and regulations, but more as a guide to understanding the will of God. They tell us what God rejects and what we should as well. The 'Ten Words' don't cover a lot of everyday life; instead, they deal with situations, like idolatry, murder and violation of property. They are a light to guide our journey with God and our neighbour. We observe them not to earn God's pleasure, but to know the direction our lives should take, so as to live as God's holy covenant people.

The second difficult reading for some is from the gospel of John (2:13-25) which reveals an angry Jesus "cleansing the Temple" at the beginning of his ministry. The passage shows Jesus fulfilling the prophetic hopes of the ancient prophets. The prophets Malachi (3:14) and Zechariah (14: 1-21) had anticipated the messianic age when God would "suddenly" come the Temple to "purify and cleanse it." Jesus' true messianic ministry will overturn the religious laws and drive out greed, hypocrisy and the crippling legalism in religious practice. He was going to establish the new and holy temple of his body. In this new body, God and humanity would be able to meet and enter into a new relationship.

The scene of the cleaning, takes place in the outer courts of the Gentiles, where animals were sold for the Passover feast to about 300,000 thousand pilgrims who had travelled to Jerusalem. The moneychangers would exchange foreign coins for the acceptable Temple ones. They were known to defraud or scam people in the exchange for the 'sanctuary shekel'. In a subtle touch John describes Jesus as having a milder attitude towards the sellers of doves which were the offerings of the poor. The anger of Jesus here is not motivated by self-interest but by a healthy holy righteousness.

In reality Jesus will replace the Temple built by Herod, with himself. Jesus says; "Destroy this sanctuary (temple) and in three days I will raise it up." The religious authorities did not understand his words. John makes it clear that "He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body ..." So, where will people now go for a full and welcome reception by God? To Jesus, whose resurrected body will be that new temple. Later in the gospel Jesus will offer himself as a new 'Passover Meal' through which we can share fully in his resurrection life (6:30ff). When we eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord we become aware of our need for forgiveness and the cleansing. The risen Lord enters our lives, forgives our sins, cleansing us so we can give fitting worship to our God. Through boundary-breaking Jesus, the "temple raised up" in three days, we have been given forgiveness and freedom. We don't receive these gifts of grace because we have followed and kept perfect rituals, but because we are loved by a jealous God.

Jesus' angry actions might make some of us uncomfortable. Sometimes the gentle images of Jesus as the healing man of compassion, risk making him seem too soft. But today's depiction shows us how the strong convicted Jesus could ruffle the Jewish religious and Roman authorities. In the temple cleaning we confront our temptation to turn Jesus into a manageable deity. The cleansing of the temple is a warning against any and every false sense of security. Misplaced values, religious presumption, pathetic selfish excuses, smug self-reliance, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed are only some of the tables that Jesus would overturn in his own day and in ours. What was it, apart from the money changers and merchants, that stirred Jesus' anger? Perhaps it was the fact that the Temple was not open equally to ALL PEOPLE. If this is true then Jesus' attitude, challenges the openness and hospitality of our places of worship? Do we lack "zeal" for our worship community? Our goal should be to make our personal and communal lives true "houses of prayer", places of generous welcome and prayer for ALL peoples, like the zealous Jesus desires. A place where we can worship God in 'Spirit and in Truth'. May we continue to 'follow him'.