Lent 3: Exodus 20:1 - 17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Welcome to my new weekly blog. My intent is to give a little bit of background and a little bit of reflection on the texts for the coming Sunday, that it might provide us a more intentional approach to the scriptures; but' also draw us into a deeper respect for their complex beauty, and their often simple, but profound message. I would ask your patience as we both grow into this process. I welcome your thoughts, your questions, your insights and you imagination. All are welcomed here.
Now, to the texts!!!
Exodus: An intimidating passage for our first go at this - the Ten Commandments. The story that frames them aside, there is a deep sophistication to them that is echoed in Jesus' own mission and his thoughts about the intent and purpose of religion (We'll get to that shortly) Just as David provides political structure for the loosely knit confederation of tribes that will comprise his kingdom, at the precise moment when the very survival of the Jews hangs on their ability to find common purpose, Moses provides this code of ethical behavior. As Gil Bailie notes ( Violence Unveiled, “Moses and the Commandments,” pp. 143-145), the commandments are 'lofty, original, and morally demanding' and are 'strikingly lacking in ritual prescriptions.' The last commandment, in fact, offers the ultimate statement about rivalrous and violent behavior, by calling out the jealousy and covetousness that produces the many forms of violence rejected in the previous commandments. (It's not hust about wanting more that is condemned, but wanting something at the expense or to the detriment of others... my neighbor's house, his wife, his resources...)
In fact, you could say that Jesus' summary of the law - love God with all your heart, mind and strength; and your neighbor as yourself - are actually a re-stating of the first and last commandments, which provide the spirital and moral underpinning for all the rest. And, that makes perfect sense - without that relationship with God, with pure light and love, what chance do we have to walk back from our worst urges against our neighbors?
Corinthians: Ah, leave it to Paul. As the earliest followers of 'the Way' were struggling to find the words and ideas that would best express the significance and meaning of the Cross and this Jesus fellow, Paul adds his own argument for the Corinthians: that all things - Jew and Greek - are no longer relevent. The Law (and its ritual practices) and philosophy (Hey, we do love Philo and Appolonius, but..), these no longer make sense to the faithful, just as a life of loving obedience and self-sacrifice would appear to be sheer folly to the wise and discerning. Great theater.
John: Yes, I am actually going to say this... I have to give the 4th Gospel some credit for its take on the 'cleansing of the Temple' story. Mark, Matthew and Luke place this story at the end of Jesus' ministry. He enters the capital and heads immediately to its heart - the Temple - and then throws all of the capitalists out into the street, creating the first Occupy Movement and sealing his own fate. It is this act of protest that sets his arrest and execution into motion. And while at the heart of it, John's Gospel utilizes the same theme, he does it in a more obvious theological way.
Jesus, when challenged by the authorities to explain his actions, says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Which is another way of saying, 'The Temple is over. Finished. And I will take its place.' What he is acknowledging - as do Mark, Matthew and Luke in their own way - that up to this point, the religion has used a sacrificial system to maintain order and keep the peace. And, that system has been a violent one - physically, economically, socially. And now, Jesus is going to take that system away - fear and panic!!! - and give them a better way to maintain order and keep the peace: love, as the only sane and humane alternative to the bad behavior that has marked humanity since the beginning.
And, that's what I meant about Moses' law being devoid of the oppression of religious practices and preferences. Jesus understood the same thing, which is why he goes back to Moses to summarize the law (Love God, love neighbor. Bingo!) Forget this system that you have built, because it only serves you and your desire for more and more power and wealth. You can't even think to change it from within, because you would first have to become the system and once that happens, it's too late, of course.
Well, as we like to say in the homiletics biz, "There's a sermon in there, somewhere." We'll see what has evolved come Sunday. Until then, please feel free to share our thoughts about these passages... See you next week.