Monday in Holy Week – 4/6/2020 – St. Paul’s
According to the old story, the pope called all of his staff together, and he said, “I have good news and I have bad news. First the good news: the angel Gabriel appeared to me and he announced not only that Jesus will return tomorrow, but he’s coming to Rome! The bad news: he’s really ticked off!”
Change the story just a little. It’s the Jewish high priest. “Good news: for two-thousand years we have waited and finally, today, the Messiah is coming to the temple. The bad news: he’s really ticked off.”
Only now it’s not a joke, is it. It’s history.
In my perverse way, I rather enjoy this section of the Gospel where Jesus blows his stack. For me it balances off the picture that I thought was the only Jesus—the other-cheek Jesus, the Jesus of Biblical movies, with those glistening what-am-I-doing-among-these-unkept-people eyes. The distant Jesus. The unflappable Jesus.
And here he is in all his spiky manhood. Check out the 2nd Chapter of John’s gospel and you get an even more detailed version of Jesus in the Temple. You can smell his sweat. You can hear the squawking of all those caged pigeons and the squealing of all those incontinent sheep. You can sense the rage and terror in the exploiters, as this hot-eyed young man bears down on their stalls, fed up with their leeching. The Good Shepherd may be very gentle with his sheep, but let the wolves beware.
How in the world does such fury coincide with the silent, humble Jesus we will see later this Holy Week? Then he will barely say a word, even though his enemies will be violating the Father’s holiest temple of all, Jesus’ very self.
What is going on here?
Some external reasons for his vehemence are evident. Vendors were allowed only in the courtyard of the temple, not inside where they now had positioned themselves. And perhaps the dishonest practices of outdoor market-places had stolen their way into the temple. The thumb on the scale, the inflated prices, all of that.
There is another, internal reason which is much more important. Jesus knew with blessed certainty what human beings were created to be. We are made to be filled with God’s presence, to be beloved by God and to love God in return. We are most ourselves when we are not entrapped by riches honor and pride. We are designed to let go and let God. Jesus must have been overwhelmed when he saw merchants winking at these Godly values, preferring cold cash, and cheating for it at the dead center of sacred space. Everything was upside down.
Why will he react so very differently later this Holy Week? Why will he be silent then? Because by then Jesus had come to understand the depths of his mission: not just to do social action—that’s what the temple scene was—not just to cure the people miraculously, not to preach from the hillsides. He saw that he must become one with our death as well as our life, must unite with us in the terrible hurts we get from each other. Only then could he show how very close God is.
Wrath for sure can be an understandable and just reaction to selfishness and greed. The merchants were seeking short-term profit at the expense of freedom, holiness, truth, and completion of the human spirit. Worse, they were foisting all this upon the people Jesus had come to save. No wonder he hurled himself against these blind money grubbers. His emotion was real and quite impressive. But by contrast, on the cross he would empty himself out. He would surrender everything, including his fury, a surrender that would cancel out the grubbing of the money changers.
If we, as Paul says are the Temple of God, then we have questions to answer. The Holy Week beckons us to consider, are there things we need to clear out in order to have the congruence to which Christ invites us? Who helps you recognize what you need to let go of in order to be more present to the God who seeks a sanctuary in you? How is it with your body—your own flesh in which Christ dwells, and the community with which you seek to be the body of Christ in the world? What kind of community do you long for—do you have that? What would it take to find or create it?
As Jesus cleaned out the Temple to be what it was created for, we have to ponder the same thing for ourselves and our community and by Easter figure out how we are going to move forward. God be with you.