LENT 3 Click Here for the readings for Sunday.
Today my friend and I picked up trash along the route where we usually walk. Every Spring, before the vegetation begins to cover the road sides, we take out big black trash bags, gloves, and blaze orange vests to gather the beer cans, plastic bottles, and other junk left by thoughtless drivers and walkers. This year we "only" gathered 2 sacks of trash. The first year we found several years worth of garbage and more sacks-full. It is our little contribution to beautifying our environment.
I was thinking about Jesus in the Temple in the gospel for this Sunday. He was doing more than just pretty-ing up the scene. He was challenging the whole religious political system of his day. Often called "cleansing the Temple" - which sounds a bit like holy housecleaning - he is going beyond cleansing. If one pays attention to his words - he is bringing down the whole edifice. He is coming from the tradition of the prophets who spoke of God who does not require the sacrifices of animals but who requires the sacrifice of servanthood. Micah says - what does God require of us - do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Doing - actions that will bring about justice, loving - compassionate care of all God's creation, walking - on the move - not stuck in a building the divides the "ins" from the "outs."
John has this story of Jesus early in his Gospel - the others have it just before the crucifixion. Luke uses the story of Jesus proclaiming the acceptable time - the time of jubilee - when there is healing, freedom, and justice. John uses this action to say the same thing.
John sees the world as it was intended to be in creation and a world that has been structured by humankind. The world of creation lives fully in relation with God - as in the Garden of Eden. The world structured by humankind works to enslave some for the benefit of the few. Our readings include the Ten Commandments- given to the people of God to free them - to teach them how to live in right relationship with God and one another. Paul in his letter to the Romans wrestles with this paradox of how much freedom God offers and how we choose slavery - slavery to addictions, to material goods, to believing there is not enough.
What often starts out as a good thing - worshipping God - ends up like the scene in the Temple. The temple was built for proper worship and sacrifice but it has become a place of rigidity and burden to humans. The law of not having graven images because no one can imagine the fullness of God (a good thing) has become a burden of having to exchange the money of the Roman rulers into Temple money with no images. For poor people their money cannot buy as much since there is a "cut" that goes to the money traders. Worship of God (another good thing) has been tied up with having to have the proper item - which once again must be purchased. Protecting the tradition (a good thing) has become more like a prison of the Spirit. God is kept behind the curtain - in the Holy of Holies
But the wild God of the Exodus, the journeying God of the desert will not be kept in places of our own making. God is out and about - walking the earth -- calling all of us to discover the holiness of all people, of all creation. Jesus comes striding into our midst, upsetting our lives like so many tables in the temple, whipping up our spirits, driving us out into the world to discover that following him is not safe. Like Aslan in Lion Witch and Wardrobe - he is not safe -he is wild - but he loves with the heart of the universe. It is the freedom of that love that speaks to those deepest yearnings in our lives. Yearnings we try to fill with poor substitutes - yearnings to love and be loved, to make a difference, to live forever. Jesus sweeps away all the substitutes and gives us the "real thing" - that love which passes all understanding.