3rd Sunday in Lent (B)
Exodus 20:1-7; John 2:13-22
How would you describe Jesus’ actions here? . . . When was the last time you let your passion lead your actions? When has your behavior come out of such conviction that you didn’t fully measure the consequences?
Usually we tend to think of those behaviors in negative terms—perhaps because most of our passionate responses would be out of anger or revenge. But eliminating road rage, bar fights, or politics, think about passionate behavior in terms of your faith.
That’s what Jesus is doing. His bizarre behavior is led by passion. He’s not necessarily upset by the corruption of the temple market—no indication it was corrupt. He’s not fighting social injustices. No one has insulted him or his family. The selling of sacrificial animals was a routine part of the culture. It was a lot easier to buy cattle or sheep than to bring them to Jerusalem for the Passover—not to mention feeding them, caring for them, cleaning up after them. It made religious life simpler to let that be done in the temple courtyard, and at the time of sacrifice simply purchase the required animal. And, of course, you couldn’t use the Roman denarii used everywhere else. You had to pay the temple tax in Tyrian shekels or half shekels. That money had to be converted, and there was a small but expected fee for that service as well.
This system had been in place for decades if not centuries. Everyone knew it, used it, and even appreciated it because it made it so much easier to fulfill their religious duties on these holy festivals, such as Passover.
Jesus is not driven by anger over an unjust system. He’s not necessarily appalled at the evil-doers in the temple taking advantage of the poor—there’s no indication of that. This isn’t really about justice or anger or fixing an abusive system. It’s his passion for what his Father is doing, and Jesus’ role in that.
The temple was a symbol for the presence of God among us. So there was more at stake for Jesus than maintaining an established religious system that was working pretty well. Rather, the presence of God had become a system of rules rather than a relationship. He knows he has come among us to open that relationship up between us and God, to bring that into the world regardless of whether people approve or not.
Jesus is driven by devotion to his call within his Father’s mission; certainly not diplomacy or keeping people happy. People were offended by his actions. They demand an explanation (which is really pretty tolerant of them). What sign can you show us for doing this? How can he legitimize this abhorrent and disruptive behavior?
I’m not promoting offensive behavior, but this gets me thinking: what part of God’s work in the world are we that passionate about? What about God’s mission is more important to us than considering whether some action or word is offensive or foolish?
By his actions in the temple, Jesus is reminding us that the most important thing is what God is doing, and our call in that—anything else is just a personal agenda.
We know what God is doing in Jesus Christ. We know that what God is doing is forgiving those who’ve offended, caring for those who are powerless, loving those no one else loves, giving to those who may abuse the gift. But that takes any multitude of forms. How can our passions line up with that?
For the people in the temple, the zeal was for preserving the church system that had been in place forever, and that was working quite well. The zeal was for maintaining a church where people could follow particular traditions, patterns, and norms in order to consider themselves justified.
For Christ, the zeal was for his Father’s presence, his Father’s mission, and his Father’s activity in the world.
I would invite you this Lent to consider your own zeal. Where do you exert the most energy? What do you get most excited about? What can you talk about for hours without stopping? And then, where might God be in the midst of that passion?
Take some time and consider what gets your blood pumping, whether it’s a religious thing or not. What are you willing to devote time to just because it is exciting for you? Baseball, travel, writing? Is it friendships, academics, music? Perhaps children, helping people, problem solving?
Whatever it is, consider the possibility that it is a God-given passion. Reflect on how God might be calling you to into God’s work through that passion. Be willing to imagine and connect God’s forgiveness with your love for animals; outlandish generosity with your ability to make new friends; Christ-like mercy with a passion for sports. Where is God calling you in the midst of your zeal? Take some time, use your imagination, be willing to try some things. You never know what God is up to, and how God is calling you to participate!
Consider God’s call to you this Lent. By the power of the Holy Spirit, who has created enthusiasm and zeal within us, may living our new and zealous life in Christ be that important for us.