Sunday, 11 March 2012

Powers and Dominions

Third Sunday in Lent

Gospel John 2.13-22

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.
All Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!”

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Account of Jesus interventionCleansing of the Temple. As if the animals had made the courts dirty. Probably you regard it as Jesus against commercialisation of worship of God, especially arrangements for animal sacrifice. Or Jesus against the priests who made money out of the crowds attending Temple worship at Feast of Passover.

Much more than all these things. Romans had total control of Judaea. Occupied land. Religion was not an exception. Romans controlled Temple worship.

Priests not appointed. Members of tribe of Levi. Born to the task. Duties to perform. Only they could do them. But they were not independent of the Roman governor. They colluded with Roman authorities. Both sides made money out of the status quo. Priests not really religious leaders, but were resented because of their inherited status and the way they feathered their own nest and distanced themselves from those who suffered under the harsh and violent rule of Rome.

Jerusalem at best of times was a tinderbox of rebellion and sectarian dispute. Time bomb waiting to go off. During Passover, Jews from all over empire would make a pilgrimage and visit the Temple. Crowds pressed on every side. Numbers swelled hugely. Always a potential for disturbance, so increased and oppressive presence of Roman soldiers.

In this volatile setting, Jesus makes a whip, drives out animals, people selling them, and moneychangers. He pours out their money and tips over their tables. And in doing this, he confronts not only the Temple authorities but the Romans whose coffers are swelled by the taxes raised during the festival.

Chief priest was appointed by Rome and served its interests. By attacking the system of raising money in the midst of Passover Jesus was confronting not only the religious leaders but the Roman officials who controlled the Temple. There was no doubting this would quickly attract their attention.

Reasonable to assume Jesus’ angry outburst aimed not so much at corruption of the worship of God, nor people making money out of it, but at the duplicity of the whole system, hand in glove with occupying forces.

Is this anything more than a history lesson? Yes – when we grasp what is really going on, and the enormity of what Jesus tried to do, we ask ourselves the question What does it mean to follow Christ?

During these weeks of Lent, we as Christians ask ourselves this very question, and we relive the events of Holy Week and Easter. What does it really mean to walk the way of the cross?

During Jesus’ trial, Pilate mocks him and calls him King of the Jews. He does this to taunt the chief priest. Here is your king Pilate says to the people.

The people reply that anyone who claims to be a king “sets himself against the emperor.” The priests confirm their loyalty to the emperor claiming “We have no king but the emperor.”

The consequence of challenging these two groups was death, and Jesus must have known this was inevitable.

Sometimes in our faith we may be faced with the choice of standing up for what is right, and challenging the authorities. We can think of Martin Luther King, Archbishop Tutu, John Sentamu and the bishops in Uganda, and Zimbabwe for example.

Sometimes the church fails in its duty and colludes with evil authorities for its own survival. We can think of Nazi Germany.

If we understand the gospel as Jesus cleanses the Temple we miss the point. The open confrontation of civil authority regardless of the implication for the individual sticking their neck out and finding the guillotine.

What does it look like to follow Jesus in our own time and place? Who are our models of faith and why? Lent is a good time to think about difficult or unpopular decisions we might make as we walk the way of the cross. Or if we don’t have to make these critical decisions ourselves, supporting them who do and confronting the abuses they are up against.

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