3 Lent B “ March 11, 2012
Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
On Tuesday mornings, our staff here gets together for our weekly meeting and, after a little breakfast, we read the gospel lesson and discuss it, then we go over the calendar for the next few weeks. It’s really our one chance for all of us to sit in the same room with each other. When we finished reading the lesson this past Tuesday, Ashlee Hooper, our Christian Formation Director, said, See, Robert, you’re not the only one who pitches a fit in the church.
I’ve pitched a few fits over the years but she was referring to a little episode the day before when I walked into the lobby to find two men standing there with an all-too-familiar look on their faces. I was running behind and in kind of a bad mood and wanted to cut to the chase with them so I said, Tell me what you’re selling so I can tell you we don’t want it. Oh, we’re not selling anything, said one of the men. So you’re selling AND you’re lying too, I retorted. Oh, no, sir, we’re with the Gideons, one of them said meekly.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Gideons are the ones who put bibles in all the hotel rooms. That’s not all they do but everything is centered on making bibles available for people and all Gideons work for free, so I felt like a heel. I apologized and thanked them for their selfless work. They wanted me to attend a pastors’ appreciation dinner and they also wanted to come here today and make an announcement about their work, neither of which was I willing to do but, after that rather embarrassing start, we had a pleasant enough exchange. As they were leaving I said, You know, technically I was right; you are salesmen, just like me. They left kind of scratching their heads.
Jesus barges into the temple and flies off the handle. It kind of feels like he’s running behind and in a bad mood but actually there’s more to it than that. The people he runs out of the temple are following the rules, technically, but they are using the rules for their own selfish gain. The salesmen here are selling a good product, for a good purpose it might even be said, but there’s no humility in what they are doing. The people coming to the temple are expected to make a sacrifice of some sort of animal. Here they can buy an animal with which to make their sacrifice and, kind of like the 7-11 store, the salesmen are capitalizing on convenience and charging more than the product is actually worth. Jesus is insulted that they would use the temple to make extra profit.
Similarly the moneychangers are converting the Roman coins the people bring for their offerings, converting that money to temple currency and, like some plywood salesman after a tornado, they are gouging the customers. Again, Jesus doesn’t appreciate the selfish use of the sacred for personal gain. They are selling their wares and lying to themselves about what they are doing and Jesus won’t stand for it. Out of here, all of you! Stop making my Father’s house a market place.
As the events in Jesus’ life move forward, we can see even more meaning in this fit he pitches in the temple lobby. When all is said and done, after the crucifixion and resurrection, when the whole thing begins to sink in with the followers, a brand new and world-altering truth is revealed. This whole manner of worship, where priests require the people to bring living animals to offer as a sacrifice, where people are encouraged to purchase some favor from God, is all wrong. That way of looking at God is completely off-base, Jesus is saying and showing. God is not some angry being sitting up on some throne gnawing greedily on a turkey leg waiting for us to buy our way out of trouble. No, God is patiently and generously making himself known to us in a loving and renewing way. God is actually making the sacrifice himself to come to us in his only Son, Jesus Christ. We don’t offer blood to purchase God’s favor. Christ offers blood to purchase our souls. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price, a price paid by the only being capable of such an act, the Almighty God himself.
How frustrating it must have been for Jesus to have met with such a total misunderstanding of the nature of his Father. How frustrating it must still be when we continue to miss the point. We bow and scrape, trying to finagle or lie our way into some payoff from God. God, meanwhile, wants an abiding relationship with us. God wants faithfulness, our acceptance of his many gifts, some sort of response from us involving justice, mercy, mutual respect, and generosity.
Our acts of sacrifice during Lent are not some lame attempt to prove to God our worthiness. Our acts of sacrifice are done so that we may know the temperament of the loving God who sacrifices himself for us. We don’t sacrifice to get to God. We sacrifice because God has given himself to us in his only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.