Sunday, March 8, 2015

Love and Table Flipping

All of the Sundays of Lent so far have provided us with different angles of this man Jesus, who can be quite mysterious. On the first Sunday of Lent we saw Jesus portrayed as one who could be tempted when he was in the desert. Last Sunday we saw Jesus' divinity when he was transfigured on the mountain. This Sunday we see an image of love. We see Jesus cleansing the temple of things that God in the way between the Father and his children. The other images we could handle, but this image might be difficult for us to deal with.

I suspect that most of us either really like this image, this episode of Jesus' life, or we really don't. Perhaps we really like this idea of Jesus showing this strange emotion, this emotion that is something like anger, because we think it justifies our own anger or other issues and absolves us from having to work on them. Or perhaps we really don't like this picture of Jesus because we think of him as always meek and mild, so we just exclude this picture from our mental image of Jesus. But our job as Christians, as followers of the Christ, is to really learn who this man Jesus is, so that we can make sure we are actually following the Christ, and not some image we've concocted in our heads. So we have to see this man flipping tables, and in a couple weeks the man who will stand silent in the face of false accusations, silent in the face of the cross, who will beg forgiveness for his murderers, as one and the same person.

What's important to see here is that he was so moved by the wrongdoing going on in the temple that he fixed it immediately. It was too severe for him to wait. He wasn't going to talk to the authorities and establish a committee to study the problem. He wasn't going to perform an economic impact study to see if removing the money changers was going to negatively impact the Jerusalem economy. This needed to be changed now. But why was this situation so bad that it needed to be changed immediately? Why couldn't he have changed it in a way that upset fewer people? I mean, if he had conducted a short teaching session rather than flipped a table, he might have gained a few more followers. After all, the people he drove away with a whip probably didn't become his followers, so was it really worth it? Yes, yes it was. In short, humans had constructed a hurdle, not even a full-on roadblock, just a hurdle, between God and his people, and Jesus, out of love, wouldn't allow even this hurdle to stand.

So what's the background here? Basically, animals sacrifice was a part of Jewish life, but by this point the animals used for sacrifice, and the special currency necessary to buy them, was all being bought and sold and exchanged inside the temple courtyard. Profane things had intruded on the realm of divine, and they were hurdles that people had to overcome as they just tried to fulfill their religious duty.

So Jesus, out of love for his Father and his Father's chosen people, destroyed this whole system. God didn't want his people to have any extra hurdles on their way to him, so Jesus took care of it. The temple was the dwelling place of God, so Jesus wanted it to be that again, and not be a marketplace where the things of this world are bought and sold.

The only difference between then and now is where that temple, that dwelling place of God is located today. God doesn't dwell in a temple in Jerusalem anymore, but rather God dwells in the soul of each and every one of you who are baptized. Your heart, your soul, is the dwelling place of God. So now, Jesus is waiting to cleanse your heart the same way he cleansed the temple. Bu he won't do it without your permission. So he waits until you invite him in to purify your heart, that dwelling place of God in you. Your heart should not be a marketplace where the things of this world are bought and sold, but your heart should be dedicated only to the things of God. Your heart is worth purifying, forcefully if necessary, and this is your path to holiness.

Each of us is called to holiness. Each of us is called to be a saint. Holiness, sanctity, it isn't just for strange people of long ago, it isn't just for monks and nuns who live in quiet monasteries, and it isn't just for priests and people who work for the Church. It is for each and every one of us. That's because holiness isn't mindlessly reciting prayers all day, it's not spending all day in the church not talking to people, and it's never boring. Holiness is never boring! Holiness is taking everything about my life and laying it at the feet of the author of life, and letting him transform it. So by drawing near to the author of life and happiness, holiness makes me happier and more alive than I could be on my own. Also, holiness makes you endlessly unique. Sin makes you boring. Jesus is calling you to be a saint, but not a saint like the world has ever seen before. You are to be a new and completely unique saint. And you become a saint by this lifelong effort of purifying the temple of my soul. It's never a finished effort until heaven, but it's something we have to work at our whole life through.

Now remember, what Jesus was dealing with in the temple, these salesmen and money changers, all they had done was make the journey to God more difficult, not impossible, and yet even this increased difficulty was worth flipping out for.  That's how much Jesus loves us. For ourselves, we let all sorts of things into the temple of our hearts, into our lives that make our journey to God, more difficult. An easy one to think about is the entertainment we use. There are some forms of entertainment - music, movies, television, sports, etc - that are so wholesome that they actually make us better people, and there are some that are so awful you can't take them in and still pretend to be a Christian. But most fall in the middle. Most secular entertainment acts as hurdles. They don't actually make a relationship with God impossible, but they make it tougher.

So what does Jesus do with these hurdles? If you haven't figured it out yet, he banishes them immediately. So we have to surrender everything, even the things we use for entertainment, to God and see what he wants to do with them to make us holier. Remember how I said holiness is unique? He may not want to get rid of all the things we use for entertainment. Some of these secular or middle of the road entertainments he may be able to transform to our benefit. But the thing is, it's up to God, it's not really up to us, what sorts of secular entertainments we let into our lives, because he knows us better than we know ourselves. So we can't decide for ourselves what sort of movies and television is good for us, that's a matter for God. But none of it is neutral. Nothing in this world is neutral, it will all either hurt us or help us to be saints.

So be a saint, be a unique saint, be a saint that the world has never seen before. Be a saint by letting Jesus cleanse the temple of your heart of everything that is not of him. Surrender everything in your life to him, and let him remove all hurdles between you and the Father. Doing this will not make you bored or sad, it will actually make you happier than you are today. This relationship with God is the most important thing in your life, let Jesus cleanse you of everything that does damage to that relationship, and you'll experience a happiness on this earth that actually prepares you for the happiness of eternal life.

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