Monday, March 12, 2012

Cleansing the Temple

John 2: 13-22, page 93
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 market place!”
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.
Among other things, today is “Selection Sunday,” the day when the teams competing in the NCAA basketball tournament will be finalized. After today the brackets are set and men and women across the country will spend their time between now and the championship game on April 2nd obsessing over the rise and fall of basketball teams comprised of 18-21 year old college students.
Interestingly, this is the first year since 1946 that Harvard University will make an appearance.
It’s an amazing achievement I think – because we all know that at Harvard, no one gets to graduate majoring in something like “social sciences,” or “multi-disciplinary studies,” or “pottery,” or “badminton.” Growing up a Georgia Tech fan, I was raised to dull the pain of a loss to the University of Georgia by saying something like, “Georgia Tech players have a harder time – they don’t go to school just to play – they also have to go to class.”
I’ve heard a similar sentiment from Vanderbilt fans – and whether it’s true or just an excuse for not doing as well as Georgia or UT – there certainly is a concern that college sports hold too prominent a place in the academy.
Some would say that there are two kinds of colleges today – there are colleges who relentlessly pursue academic excellence, and others who relentlessly pursue athletic titles. Of course, only one of these pursuits really makes any sense. Colleges were created for education, not sports, but when there is money involved the line gets blurry.
There are rules put in place to set the two things apart, to stop student athletes from focusing solely on their sport to the detriment of their education. The problem is, it’s difficult to stop one from taking over the other.
In Jerusalem, the problem was different but it was also the same.
The problem wasn’t sports taking over schools, but the marketplace taking over the temple.
To provide a suitable sacrifice for those who didn’t bring one from home, ancient believers were able to honor God by buying an animal as meager as a dove or as grand as cattle right outside the temple. This industry emerged out of convenience, but grew into a problem.
There were rules and a bureaucratic structure to keep the two things separate. Regular money wasn’t allowed and had to be exchanged for coinadge free from any graven image. A suitable sacrifice was provided for purchase no matter how poor. But as is always the case, purpose and priorities blur especially when money is involved, and the industry that emerged to enable suitable worship began to take over.
It’s a problem you’re probably all too familiar with.
You’ve spent plenty on taking your children to the circus, but the show takes on a supporting role to the gift shop you are forced to walk through on your way out. Suddenly the fact that you took them to the circus doesn’t matter at all, while the fact that you wouldn’t buy them a glow in the dark sword brings them to tears.
Of course, it’s not that buying and selling is necessarily a problem. Jesus doesn’t go from toppling the vendor’s tables in the temple to knocking over stalls in the marketplace – it’s that he is for preserving the sanctity of the sanctuary and against the rules and standards of commerce invading every aspect of our lives.
There is always a need to control, a need for laws that limit and commandments that enforce to stop the tail from wagging the dog.
The job that serves as a means to provide for your family can become, not the means to an end but the end in and of itself. Hours spent at work longing to be home change to hours spent at home preoccupied with work.
The beer you drink to enhance your life, to relax, to better enjoy the party, so easily becomes the party itself – no longer a way to make life better but the reason to live.
The tables set up to enhance worship by providing a suitable sacrifice crept in slowly to overtake worship itself – the temple no longer a temple but a marketplace, like a college no longer a college but a football program.
This is just the way we work – that which can take us over, we hold it at arm’s length while it creeps in closer.
These weeks of the Season of Lent call us to examine ourselves, to give something up, to remember that we can live without in a culture that conditions us to long for more.
While this time of Lent calls you to work less and to value your family more, the world makes you feel guilty, for by the standards of the world you are only as valuable as the work that you do.
While this time of Lent calls you to give up the rich food and drink that you know you don’t really need to survive, the world tempts you back to old habits living as one who lives to eat and not one who eats to live.
And while this time of Lent calls you to examine your life, to rethink how things are, know that one of the great evils of our world is the temptation to value money over all else – to make it using any means necessary, to take all that you can, while viewing your neighbors not as brothers and sisters but as clients, employees, or customers to take advantage of.
Christ stands in the midst of all of this saying, “Stop! Stop making my Father’s house a market place!”
Know instead that the Holy One of God calls you to a new way of life, where there is living water that brings satisfaction, where you are seen for who you are and called beloved, where what can be bought and sold has no value for everything good is poured out abundantly.
Come to the table today and taste how your life could be if you only lived according to the limits rather than constantly stepping over the line.
Come to the table and drink deeply from the cup of salvation and know that all God’s greatest gifts are poured out abundantly for you.
Come to the table and remember the one who died for you, the one who three days later rose again so that you might truly live.

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