Archives: 3 Lent

Zeal For Your House Will Consume Me

Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is an act of premeditated rage.

In our haste to divorce ourselves from the old, punitive image of a wrathful and vengeful God, we have at times come too close to domesticating Jesus.

We picture him with perfect hair in a clean robe always speaking softly and reasonably.

If we try to think about Jesus being angry, we might remember this story, when he drives the moneychangers from the Temple.

But our mental image of Jesus in this situation is him flying off the handle, losing his temper and abruptly descending into a violent tirade.

It turns out neither scenario is true. Jesus is not the mealy-mouthed meek and mild Sunday school picture, but nor is he a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.

Jesus sees what is happening in the Temple and decides, ahead of time, to use his holy anger as a sign to the people.

We know this because of John 2:15. It says, “Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

“Making a whip of cords.” Jesus didn’t just show up at the Temple one day and start kicking over tables on the spur of the moment.

He made a decision to express his anger, and then went aside to make a whip of cords.

That took time. That took effort. He had to find supplies, for heaven’s sake.

How do you make a whip of cords? I don’t know, but it’s not something you toss off in ten minutes.

Jesus had a message to communicate, and he chose this dramatic and visceral action, almost like performance art, to convey it.

He loosed the reins on his passion and emotion for his people, and let his heart show.

It is at once intimidating—to think of Jesus committing premeditated violence, however justified—and deeply moving to see his vulnerability. Continue reading

How to Drink of Living Water

I’m just going to cut right to the chase on this text: Jesus is undermining us and our priorities yet again, because he loves us too much to let us continue in our self-protective delusions.

Every time I think I’ve got him figured out, he knocks me over once again with his subversive and all-encompassing love.

The woman at the well is one of John’s most beloved stories.

We have a woman who is trapped in an unenviable social situation, the origins of which we do not clearly understand.

She has to come to well to draw water in the heat of the day rather than the cool of the early morning. This is a clue that she is ostracized from the company of the other women in town, respectable women, who would come as a group to draw water at dawn.

Why is she not respectable? We don’t know, but more than likely it is a result of gender-based shame imputed to her.

She may be penalized for exercising sexual autonomy, i.e. being a “loose woman.”

Or she may have been passed around from husband to husband to finally a man who doesn’t even bother to marry her because she is barren, unable to have children, the other major source of shame for women in her society.

Even without knowing her story and its shades of disgrace in the eyes of her culture, the gospel says the disciples are shocked to find Jesus talking with a woman, any woman.

Regardless of what she has been through, and we understand that it cannot have been pleasant, she has enough pluck in her to enter into conversation with an unaccompanied adult male whom she quickly discovers is a Jew.

This reality alone would have further diminished her already precarious position in society.

But there is a spark of curiosity in her that responds to Jesus and answers the invitation to go deeper with him.

She is thirsty for more than what she can find at the bottom of that well, and so she asks.

In fact, she more than asks, she requests, demands, even: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

How often do we share our need with Jesus so un-self-consciously?

And here is what fascinates me. The woman asks Jesus for the Living Water, and what does he give her?

One would expect him to give her comfort, understanding, affection, healing, assurance of salvation.

But he gives her none of these.

She asks Jesus for the Living Water, and he gives her truth. Continue reading

Jesus’ Premeditated Rage

This is such a fascinating Gospel story.

I think the reason many of us find it intriguing is because it cuts across our customary image of Jesus.

Jesus is so gentle and loving in many of the stories about him, taking children in his arms and blessing them, washing the disciples’ feet and so forth, that we run the risk of domesticating him, making him one dimensional.

Jesus as our Good Shepherd is tender and gentle, but he is so much more than that.

Jesus was a person, a man, and he experienced the full range of complex emotions that humanity has to offer.

Jesus is so intense in this story of driving the moneychangers from the temple.  It’s almost embarrassing to think about it, especially for us extremely polite Anglicans.

The last thing we would ever think of doing is creating a shouting ruckus in church, which is essentially what Jesus does here.

He descends on the Temple like a furious storm, sweeping through with incandescent rage and leaving wreckage behind him.

The difference, of course, is that instead of a harvest of death, the storm that Jesus unleashes on the Temple is in the service of life.

Rather than the people dying, Jesus offers his own life as the price of the sin and evil in the world being destroyed.

This event of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the Temple is described in all four gospels, which lends it an extra force of realism.

Everybody who was writing about Jesus agreed that this happened, and that it was important to remember it. Continue reading

Bearing Witness: We Have to Let Him See Us First

For Jesus, everyone is chosen.

We are used to “the chosen people” being a finite category, an exclusive category: that’s what the name means.

Israel was the original chosen people.

Perhaps we might also think of those who have fulfilled some religious formula to attain salvation as chosen.

We often act as though our particular corner of our particular denomination is chosen.

There is often a sense of those who achieve worldly success with money or fame as being chosen for greatness.

But Jesus chooses everyone, even and especially the rejects and outcasts.

To be chosen means to be special, to be set apart, and that specialness and singling out for attention remain even though Jesus’ choice is universal.

We read about it throughout scripture. Jeremiah talks about the experience of being chosen even before we can display any merit or even any personality when God says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5).

In Ephesians, Paul tells us that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 4:23).

And Jesus tells us himself in the gospel of John, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16).

The woman in our story from the gospel of John today is considered anything but chosen by her society.

She has been pushed from pillar to post all over town by having a series of husbands, possibly by being widowed, possibly in other circumstances.

The honor/shame culture in which she lives has devalued her with each new partner until her current partner does not even bother to marry her. Continue reading

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