Losing It

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 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. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors: Tom and Sandy

Tom, a regular attendee at weekly parish feeding ministries and Sandy, a new Faith from the Margins participant invited by her VCU student daughter both bring lives of prayerful insight into this week’s Gospel lesson.  After they prayed together and read the Gospel lesson, Tom opened their conversation thoughtfully:

“I was just thinking, this is an amazingly straightforward passage. Especially for John, because he’s so esoteric, kind of a dreamer. But, this is clear like he was there. It’s a good one, because they didn’t really realize at the time that Jesus was talking about his body, his own temple, when he talked about destroying and rebuilding. Maybe John was taken in by all that foreshadowing!

Sandy found another part of the passage speaking to her.  “The thing about this that I love is that people think Jesus is all nice and sweet and calm and all of that. But here, there is a righteous anger, and I really love that fact, that he threw the tables over and even made himself a whip. It helps me when I’m talking to my son about his anger, because it makes it real and relatable. Feelings are feelings, they just are. They aren’t good or bad. Your actions might be good or bad in responses but your feelings are your feelings. And knowing that Jesus had feelings, just as we do…that’s important!”

Tom related to that as well:  “Oh yeah. Both fully God and fully human. If you’re fully man there are feelings you have to deal with. If you’re fully God, you can tap into that part. But, there are always going to be feelings that we can relate to. I’m kind of laughing because sometimes when people say, ‘What would Jesus do?’ the honest answer might be making a whip and kicking you out of this building! And righteously so!! We can forget this part of the story. But think of it from Jesus’ viewpoint:  there was so much corruption. Whenever there is power, people get corrupted. Here, in this Gospel, it was for making a few extra shekels from the money-changers. But there was a real problem…it got bigger, suddenly like Vegas or something. Even the poorest of people could come to the temple and worship, but then they were being taken advantage of while the rich were flaunting their wealth.”

The two were finding their thoughts coming together as they imagined this image of Jesus responding to injustice.

Sandy spoke next, “Well, that’s just it. I love that he got angry, that there were things that he had to deal with. He wasn’t just sitting back and letting things happen.  He spoke his mind.”   She paused and chuckled a little, a memory coming into focus from her own life: “It reminds of one time, when we had some fundraising thing at school when I was little and I brought my sales form to church and pulled it out Sunday morning and started asking people to buy things. My mother snatched that out of my hands; she was furious! “This isn’t the place for that!” she said. I didn’t really understand it all at the time, but, it was clear to me that I had crossed a line!  But now, I start to see. Church has to be different; we’re here for a different reason.  Sometimes you need to point out the reason and then people begin to see things differently.”

Tom nodded.  “I mean, I know that there are times when churches need to have fund-raisers or they are doing something over and beyond to help others. Any church can have good intentions, but they can also fall into it being all about the money. People are well meaning, but it can easily happen. This story reminds me of that; the money changers and those selling animals for offerings weren’t there with a bad intention originally…people travelled for miles and it made it possible to come and make a sacrifice, no matter how much money one had or didn’t have.  But it slipped away from them about why it was supposed to happen.  It started to become about ways in which people could make money, skim a little off the top, and take advantage. It’s like a wake-up call to pay attention!”

Tom and Sandy exchanged some stories of greed and corruption that they have seen emerge in the church, even recently. Tom related a story of Pope Francis calling out a Bishop building an extravagant residence in order to convert it to homeless shelters. “It seems like he is trying to set a good example, but you see these glaring examples when they come up how easily people can be caught up in greed instead of charity.”

Sandy nodded. “I support a couple kids in the Dominican Republic, and I have for many years.  It isn’t a hands-off kind of thing; I’ve been on trips to help build churches and hold Sunday School for the kids and make relationships that last. That last story you told reminded me of how much we have to check our intentions.  When we go, there is a “free day” and I known I could go anywhere.  Sometimes we are encouraged to take a break, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I find that I just want to be with the kids, to see things from their eyes.  It changes me, and makes me think differently about how I invest my time, and my money.  When I was over there, I was shocked by the fact that there were two types of people there: the incredibly rich, and the destitute poor. It struck me, that stark difference. I used to get my nails done, I wore an expensive ring my husband gave me.  After I visited I though, ‘Yes, it’s beautiful, but is it necessary?’ I came home, and I was changed. I started to wonder, ‘how can I justifying spending money every week for something as trivial as fingernails!’ It made me aware of what more I could do for people than wasteful things. We just have so much waste, but we could have so much to give.

Tom summarized up their reflections, “Well, this passage reminds us what really does count, not just what doesn’t. If it comes to matters of faith and knowing God, stick to that. Don’t get caught up in people’s ideas of how to get ahead. The world has one way of doing things, but God has another plan.  It also reminds me that sometimes, it’s OK to lose it! Sometimes we have to act.”

This image of Jesus’ anger can be shocking and put us off.  But, both Tom and Sandy were able to find in it essential qualities of our own human lives, as well as the immanent hopefulness of change.  How many times do we need to be jarred into seeing something for what it has become, instead of just going along with the status quo?  How often might something that starts out as a good intention drift off to serve selfish needs?  We might need this image of Jesus to startle us, to take a deeper look at what motivates the actions of our daily lives.  We are given the gift of transformative potential, in the form of God made human.  God is not the destroyer; God is the re-builder and re-maker of our lives, of this world in which we live.  Thank you to Sandy and to Tom for sharing the Good News of this transformation potential of awareness with us this week.

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