Wisdom and Foolishness

Kenora                  Lent 3

Year B

7 March 2021

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

God of the covenant, give us zeal to discern the foolishness and the wisdom of this present age, so that we may proclaim Christ crucified; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour an glory,  now and forever. Amen.

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I find that this is one of the more fascinating depictions of Jesus in the gospels, and here we have it on the 3rd Sunday in Lent.

On the 3rd Sunday of our intentional walk at Jesus side as he goes to the Cross. On the 3rd Sunday of Jesus telling us, plainly, who he is and whose.

And today we see Jesus causing a ruckus in the outer courts. We see him loosing his temper. We see him by modern definition being violent, and this is such a different depiction of Jesus from what we usually envision, when we do think of him.

So then, when we think of Jesus, what when we envision, more often than naught, we focus on his work, of healing and teaching.

We look to his love and compassion for all of humanity. There is a great thought in art, in recent years, that shows us Jesus laughing and smiling and can be found by google “Laughing Jesus”.

When we focus on Jesus we concentrate on his kindness, his charity, his compassion, his work with lepers, with outcasts, with those on the outskirts of society.

We focus on his pointed comments to and about the Pharisees. But we don’t ever gravitate to the idea, the fact that Jesus becomes angry.

In the depths of trying to focus on the human part of Jesus, on the emotions and actions we can emulate in polite society.

We often forget that he’s working for social justice and equality for all. In everything he does, Jesus is working to tear down the barriers that separate one person from another, whether that’s because of physical infirmity or occupation or status in society.

After all, in the kingdom of heaven, everyone is equal to everyone else.

And if we look closer at the images in today’s gospel, it tells us that Jesus, in the outer courts of the Temple, in Jerusalem, made a whip of cords.

14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”” (Jn 2:14-16)

So, whether it’s a spur of the moment event, or whether he took the time to craft the whip, today, we see Jesus in full blown righteous anger.

The gospel tells us: “13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. ” (Jn 2:13-15)

And really what is Jesus’ anger focused on?

The gospel tells us that he says to those selling doves: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (Jn 2:16b) So maybe we need to look further afield for the source of his anger than just making peoples offering acceptable to the temple authorities.

Now, although we can’t say this definitively, we are able to hypothesize that this isn’t a new implementation at the Temple in Jerusalem, at Passover, this year. A process to exchange the Roman currency for the more acceptable denomination and currency of the temple.

A process to provide acceptable livestock, the best available livestock for sacrifice, and for Passover: sheep, goats, cattle, doves. Animals that haven’t been driven from home bases for days, or weeks, or longer through rough terrain and lack of water to reach the steps of the temple, loosing their beauty and luster, their fatness in the long dusty miles between home and Jerusalem.

Really, Jesus would have seen this kind of trade around the temple since he was a child. But it seems something has changed.

When one goes to the marketplace, that’s the place where the phrase “buyer beware” comes into play.

In the marketplace you find sellers, still today, whose major driving idea is to get as much of your financial assets from you, while giving les than full value for your dollar in return.

So, from Jesus point of view, perhaps he’s seeing such marketplace practices taking place in the courts of the temple.

Perhaps Jesus sees the uneven scales in use, the shorting the customer of correct change and other such practices when the faithful come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and expect fair transactions so that they can fulfill their religious duties.

They’ve come to fulfill the rites of faith with a sheep or a goat without blemish that may be shared with family and friends so that everyone recalls that they were once slaves in Egypt. They’ve come to offer sacrifice for sin, for new birth, and for the women’s rites to be returned to the bosom of their communities and families after childbirth.

At Passover, they gather as families, as neighbourhoods, as a nation to recall that it’s through God’s efforts that they are free to be the people of God according to the covenant, the promises made with Abraham and his descendants.

So, naturally, causing a stampede of livestock, the chaos of a man with a whip of cords being unpleasant to everyone.

Jesus is used to the idea that money travels easier than livestock, but to take advantage of those who have travelled many days or weeks to get to Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover with friends and family, to make that possibly once in a lifetime trip to Jerusalem is what he is protesting, here, today.

When we put profit before the person then we don’t see them. Rather we see what they bring to the bargaining table, and in such circumstances, the unethical, the unscrupulous, those who see a distinction between the populous because of accent or language is what Jesus protests, today.

With a whip of cords, as he drives out the cattle, the sheep and the goats. With his hands, he heaves up the tables of the money changers, scattering the temple coin equally with the coin of the realm.

With his whip and his hands and his feet he would break the crooked scales, and destroy the weights that are improper.

He makes a mess; he causes more chaos and he just want’s people to be treated like people. To be treated fairly, to be dealt with honestly no matter who they are or where they come from, because here, in the temple, in the church, in our homes and in our lives, we are children before God.

And this brings the matter before each one of us.

How do we treat all of the people we see in the community? Do we treat them with equity and with fairness? Do we put hurdles in their way to achieve this or that goal, or service?

Do we see one set of rules for this group and another for that?

Now, I admit, that I’m a little more apprehensive when I see out of province license plates on vehicles, in this time of Covid. After all, for the past year we’ve been emphasizing the need to maintain physical distance between individuals, and to not encourage tourism or travel other than what is strictly necessary.

So, then, the sight of an out of province plate causes a bit of anxiety, for me. But on the other hand, what if they’ve been stuck here because of lockdowns, or because of covid restrictions where they call home? What if they’re the stranger in a strange land, who has been here for the past year and is waiting for the all clear to be able to return home.

After all this is a theme we’ve seen in the Old Testament. When Moses runs away from Egypt and forms a life amongst the Midianites he declares he is an alien in a foreign land, as he made a new life, there. (Ex 2:22)

When we think of Jesus’ life and ministry, it’s so much more than just the love of God, and the healing of those on the outskirts of society. Rather it’s also the righting of practices that are just out to jilt anyone who is unwary and unaware.

The gospel reminds us that Jesus comes in righteousness and in strength to fulfill the law.

So, how is it in each of our lives? Do we live by the law, or by the gospel? Or do we look for the loopholes so that we are able to come out ahead, at the expense of others? Are there places in each of our lives, our hearts, where we emulate the money changers and the sellers of livestock, instead of Jesus?

What in each of our lives needs to be overturned so that we are able to look with love and fairness on the stranger in our midst and to welcome them with the same welcome we give to close friends and family?

As Jesus drives out the livestock and the money changers, as he overturns the tables, and calls us all to account, we remember that he’s here to break down the barriers that exist between each of our lives and God.

Because we, no matter who we are or where we are in life, or where we come from, we are loved by God, and that’s good enough for Jesus.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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