Sunday, March 4, 2018

Jesus the Thug

John 2:13-22
Lent 3
March 4, 2018

I think we mostly think of nice Jesus.
The Good Shepherd Jesus, the healer.
But today Jesus is not that nice Jesus.
He’s angry Jesus. I mean he was angry Jesus
just last week, when he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”
but we don’t like to remember that Jesus.
And this week he’s demonstratively angry Jesus.

They often call this the “cleansing of the temple”
and I’ve never liked that term.
Cleansing seems more innocuous than what Jesus was doing.
And it suggests that Jesus work was completed
and everything was changed after that day which it wasn’t.
I don’t know that what he was doing there
is completed today.

What Jesus was doing here was an angry protest.
He saw something that was wrong, that went
against God’s plan, and he was showing that with a demonstration. 
Now Jesus crossed a line that many societies draw in the sand
when he disregarded personal property
and turned over tables and drove animals out.

And he became what we would classify today as “a thug.”
And sure enough, in Mark’s Gospel it says that this
was basically the thing that made the religious
authorities look for a way to arrest and crucify him.

Now some say that he did something like this on purpose
in order that he would be arrested and killed
and follow the destiny that was set before him.
But I say he did it for the reason that so many other
people get angry and protest and disregard personal property
and come to be called thugs is that so much
is just plain wrong and things needed to change.

So what was Jesus so angry about?
Let’s start with why they were selling things
in the front of the temple in the first place.

The reason that they
were selling animals in the temple,
was so people could buy them to do sacrifices
which was the main element of Jewish worship at the time.

The original idea was that people worshipped God by giving
God back the best of what God had given them. A sacrifice.
Most people would bring their own animals,
or they would trade what they produced for an animal to sacrifice.

But when the temple was built in Jerusalem,
people would to travel there to do their worship.
They couldn’t bring one of their own animals
or a bunch of other produce, people started to
sell animals in front of the temple for money.

And because Jews couldn’t use Roman money,
there were money changers, who would exchange
Roman money for Jewish tokens for a price
so then you could use them to buy the animals.

It wasn’t outrageous. It all made perfect sense.
They weren’t selling terrible elicit things,
it was all stuff for worship.
All of these things were proscribed by religious law.
But what had developed was this:
The place that was built for everyone to worship God
had become a marketplace.

The whole purpose of the temple
and the act of sacrifice was so that people
and communities would grow closer to God.
So they could understands God’s will for humanity.
So they could live out God’s dreams, and live
in a just community, and caring for the poor,
the orphan and the widow.

But they were just “doing temple”
and they weren’t doing God’s will.
And actually the marketplace itself
was unjust like all marketplaces.
It gave the wealthy more share,
and excluded the poor.

And this is why I say Jesus work in the temple is not completed
People today who follow Jesus still
find ourselves “doing church”
doing the rituals and the practices,
and not getting down to helping out God’s dreams.

We’re “doing church” but we forget
what we were “doing church” for.

People can go through their whole lives
doing the practice of Christianity and never
have it change them, never have it affect their lives.

And many Christian Churches do Church so well,
that they’ve turned the whole process into a
market place, where it’s wealth that includes
and poverty that excludes.

We always run the risk of being like one of those things.
We always have to struggle against that.
We could be “doing church” just right.
We could say all the right words right,
sing the right songs, have the most accurate budget,
the best classes, the nicest facility,
the best most organized ministry teams,
We can check off the
“12 most important things for a successful church.”
but still forget what God wants out of this whole thing:
justice, mercy, forgiveness, loving our neighbors,
loving our enemies, self sacrifice, faithful service and love.
And if we’re not doing it all for God’s vision for us
and for this world, what is it all for?

When I was in seminary, one summer
I went to Guatemala for a few weeks by myself.

When I was Guatemala,
the church around where I was staying
was in the center of town near the town square. 
There were always vendors there. 
But on Sunday morning, the vendors were doubled
they were selling rosaries, wooden crucifixes,
all types of religious articles.
trying to get some money from the more well-off people
who would be going to Sunday worship.
Cleansing of the Temple
Alexander Smirnov

And while I was in worship 
on Sunday every week
a boy who was paralyzed 
would come into church on
a homemade wooden cart and roll around
the church asking 
for money and especially
coming up to all the gringos in the church.
When he would come to me, I would just
shake my head at him 
and go back to focusing
on my worship, like all the other people in that church.

Now lots of people when they’re in seminary,
go through this phase where you think about
what the right and perfect way to do church,
and nothing in the real world is never good enough
None of our seminarians are like that. But I was in that phase then.

And I was put off by the whole thing.
The selling of religious trinkets in the front
and the boy asking for money right in the middle of worship.
It wasn’t “right”. The Church after all was a “sacred space”
I actually thought of this scripture,
“we shouldn’t make God’s house a marketplace.”
I felt a little self-righteous as only a seminarian can.

But what system would Jesus have wanted to change then?
Which table would Jesus have turned over?
Would Jesus have scolded the poor women
who were selling and just trying to make a living?
Would he have scolded that young paralyzed boy
rolling around church bugging the worshippers?

Honestly, I think that if Jesus was there that day
he would have left those tables alone.
I think Jesus what Jesus would have done was turn over
the table of my heart that felt entitled
to have my sacred moment and ignore someone in need.
The table that looked down on that young boy.
The table that had only the more well off in worship
who didn’t engage with the rest of the community.
The tables that put a barrier between God and others

Now, notice in the scripture today
that Jesus didn’t just talk about his anger.
He didn’t even tell a parable, or ask a clever question,
For this one, he flipped it all over.
He turned over a tradition that he had been a part of,
that his parents had been a part of,
in a religion that he loved and honored.
He turned it over. He disrupted everything.

Richard Rohr a well known Catholic theologian said,
Christianity is a lifestyle - a way of being in the world
that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving.
However, we made it into an established "religion"
(and all that goes with that) and avoided
the lifestyle change itself.
One could be warlike, greedy, racist,
selfish, and vain in most of Christian history,
and still believe that Jesus is one's "personal Lord and Savior" . . .
The world has no time for such silliness anymore.
The suffering on Earth is too great.

The suffering on Earth is too great.
And God is disrupting us now.
God isn’t being nice and gentle these days.
Things are changing quickly and the church
is struggling to keep up with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is being a thug right now.
Not having any regard for our property and our possessions,
and the things that we have valued and coveted all our lives.
We have to do this whole church thing is
different than we once did it.
The tables are being turned over on us.
And that is good news.

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