3rd Sunday of Lent 2006
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wanted to say something that you felt very strongly about but something in you says “you’d better not”. What you have to say, the truth you want to speak, what you feel so passionately about, might get you into trouble. It could run the risk of ruining a relationship. It could cause you to lose your job. It could ostracize you from the group in power. It could cause you to receive reams of hatemail or be blogged on the internet. Something in you says, I’d better not say this. It’s too risky.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you want to do something because you are so consumed by anger but something in you says “you’d better not” This action might get you into trouble with the law. (Even if you feel justified smashing into the car that that has cut you off or the car that at the last minute has taken the parking space you’ve been waiting for. You have to restrain yourself. Something in you says, I’d better not do this. It’s too risky.
What is it that creates that self-censoring? That I’d better not do that even though you feel strongly that you want to? Sometimes it’s fear or reprisal or disapproval. Sometimes you feel that you’ll regret it afterwards because you may just be wrong in thinking the way you do or wanting to act in a particular way. Sometimes it is very simply against the law.
But there may have been times when you have found yourself in similar situations where what you believe so strongly compels you to speech or action. Somehow you know you are betraying yourself if you do not speak out or act in a decisive way. So you speak or take action and accept the consequences. Hopefully you have “taken the deep breath” and it is ‘you” and not the anger speaking or acting.
This reflection is meant to lead us into the scene of Jesus’ decisive action in the temple. This is not the Jesus we usually think about or pray to. We usually prefer images of the Good shepherd, the healer of our every ill, the intimate friend and companion. At least for myself this image of Jesus in a rage, overturning the tables of the money-changers, looking a bit like Indiana Jones wielding that whip of cords, is not the image of Jesus that gives comfort and consolation. But it is a very real image of Jesus. In this scene, Jesus is consumed by anger at the religious system, at the “powers that be” that control the ways in which people are told they must “buy” their way into the “favor of God”.
Exegetes tell us that his anger was directed at the fact that this market place had taken over the court of the gentiles, a place where the non-jew could come to pray and at least be near the holy of holies if not allowed to enter. This plays well with Jesus' concern for the outcast, the excluded. Like the prophets before him, Jesus gives expression to the divine wrath which can not be contained .
What we witness in this scene is Jesus’ passionate concern for the way in which the freedom to worship God is compromised by “human nature” which left to its own devices tends toward greed, misuse of power, control of the other, and self-righteousness. Jesus’ own “human nature” knows well the tendencies of the human heart, as John says. In his own temptations in the desert he needed to confront those very same inclinations toward power, control and self-agrandizement. But Jesus, as I said last week, in my “are you here” homily, lived so fully in the presence of God. In a way he could not take his eyes off his “Abba”. Was the divine nature within him, ordinarily his “censoring” agent? But here the divine wrath cannot be contained.
It is so easy to claim divinity for ourselves, making ourselves arbiters of right and wrong, justifying our words and actions with biblical or church authority. It is so easy to say “I have the truth” and your “truth” is a lie. It is so easy to stand in judgment of the other, and feel justified in our anger, in our blogs and hate-mails, our condemnations of those who do not think or act the way we approve.
As Christians, we must be so careful. Our sharing in the life of Christ does not guarantee that our “human natures” with all its flaws will guide us to right speech and action. That is why we have the commandments which mean to put us into right relationship with God and our neighbor. But as Christians we believe that we have even more than the law written on stone. We have a new law written on our hearts that is the law of love as Christ embodied that law of love in ultimate self-sacrifice. That is why we have Christ himself, the new temple and the new law.