Hindsight is 20/20 thing, and we humans understand much of life only in reverse and after the fact. Jesus’ disciples were no exception. This week’s gospel lesson from the John’s Gospel recounts Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem. There is a lot going on here, and you may want to look at some historical source material to set the stage fully to help you understand what was going on.
Oppression under the heel of the Roman Empire, the commoditisation of religion, and economic abuse of the marginalised fuel Jesus’ anger, and he makes mighty quick work of cleaning things up. What a sight that must have been! Think of how things generally go today when someone challenges established practices and authority. It is usually not too pretty. Jesus had some explaining to do, and the religious people present ask him for a sign. In other words, I think they were saying, “Who made you the big cheese, you, marginal rabbi hick from Galilee?”
Of course, in typical Jesus fashion, he gives them a sign that on the surface makes no sense at all. John in his Gospel is big on signs, so fortunately for us, we get an explanation. People today still have a tough time getting what Jesus is all about, and Christians have not done the best job of sharing the good news and living out faith in love. Not everyone will understand or be open to the amazing grace and mercy that is so freely given.
St Paul the writer of seven of our epistles makes that clear in a reading from 1 Corinthians 1 this week. People still want signs, seek wisdom, crave power, and ignore truth by looking for it in all the wrong places. Yet Christians celebrate what the world derides as foolishness, believing instead that nothing is impossible with God— not even redeeming this beautiful, broken creation with a crazy, amazing, incarnate love.
On another tack, Jesus welcomed the beggars and hugged the lepers, while driving out the sellers of doves and money changers from the temple. Today we seem to get this backwards as we seem to shun the downtrodden, the sick, and the poor and welcome the wealthy and the commercial interests. Anne Murray reached the twenty-first spot on the Billboard 100 in the 1970s singing “Put Your Hand in the Hand”:
For the buyers and the sellers were no different fellas than what I profess to be, and it causes me shame to know I’m not the gal that I should be.
The lyrics merge the temple buyers and sellers together as one. It is not just wealthy corporations or the rich who come into conflict with Jesus. Sellers do not exist without buyers, and most of us are buyers. If I am honest with myself, even though my politics and values are progressive in nature, I tremble when I look at my spending.
Consumerism is in the air we breathe. It is easier to let Jesus into our hearts than into our wallets. Bringing our bank accounts, church budgets, and credit cards in line with the gospel and following the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” is one of the toughest challenge of Christians and for the Church in the western world today.