I have two questions: Why is it that Daylight Saving seems to get earlier every year? And why do we say “Spring forward” when it’s not even Spring yet?? What good is a play on words when it’s not even accurate? I guess that’s three questions…
The longer days and the warmer air does kick into motion the long-standing tradition of Spring Cleaning. In our home, it is an almost sacred rite. My husband is a neatnick with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I reluctantly join in the cleansing rituals which rid our home of dust bunnies as every piece of furniture is moved and every surface sanitized.
The words “cleaning house” can mean many things. In a political sense, it means removing from office those we find offensive in their decision-making and replacing those who block the progress we would like to see.
Today’s gospel story in the book of John is pretty well-known. Probably because it’s so dramatic. Jesus pitches a fit over money changers in the temple. He rants and raves and turns tables on their side while religious by-standers watch open-mouthed and start to imagine him dead. It’s an interesting break from the usual stories of Jesus touching and healing and loving people. Anyone who has ever been angry and lost control, even for a moment, can perhaps identify with this unusual glimpse of Jesus.
Very few stories from Jesus’ life make it into all four gospels. This is one of them. The community of John, which composed its gospel quite a bit later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is significantly different in the content of what is shared. Most importantly, John implies that the table-turning happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The other three writers say it happened on the day after Palm Sunday, near the beginning of what we call Holy Week.
We’re accustomed to saying that Jesus’ ministry lasted for three years. That’s based on John’s gospel, which says, like the others, that the temple was cleansed by Jesus as Passover approached. John mentions three different Passovers, thus a ministry lasting three years. The other gospels, read straight through, seem to only record one year of ministry.
John’s gospel is densely packed with allusions that encourage the reader to understand Jesus as the divine Son. The other gospels, not as much. This difference might be seen in where the story ends up. Jesus in the Gospel of John uses the opportunity to teach about his coming death and resurrection. He compares the temple to his own body, saying that it will be destroyed and it will be raised after three days. He speaks in code, confusing both his disciples and those listening would ultimately condemn him to death.
In the other gospels, Jesus’ anger over the money changers led to a different speech. Instead of talking of himself and his death and resurrection, he quoted Hebrew scripture to say “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” The words “all people” here is pretty significant. As Jesus’ looked on the chaotic specter of buyers and sellers in the temple court, it was clear that not all people had equal access to the holy place.
Each of the gospel stories recording the temple upset reads like a page out of the Hebrew book of Amos. An angry prophet spoke on behalf of an angry God condemning the practice of cheating the poor. Business folk routinely tampered with weights and measures. The poor got poorer and the rich got richer. This injustice not only grieved but angered God and caused the prophet to proclaim: “Let justice roll down like rivers and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Those who bore the weight of injustice suffered and cried out for mercy.
The worshippers who came into the temple on the day Jesus turned tables on their side experienced the same injustice. The poor who traveled great distances to the Passover were cheated while purchasing animals for sacrifice. They were at a disadvantage geographically, socially, and economically, and they were exploited by those who knew the purchasers of doves had no other way to attain the means of absolving their sins. To say that God’s house is to be “a house of prayer for all people” means that all have equal access regardless of who they are.
Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” Americans and political figures from throughout the country gathered in Selma, Alabama to remember the first attempt of African American citizens to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The ultimate goal was equal access to voting booths in Alabama and other states that limited the rights of black citizens. Fifty years later, we celebrate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the same time, we puzzle at the Supreme Court decision of 2013 that led to the reinstatement of laws that ultimately limit who can vote in certain states, including Alabama. Justice is hard work, and sometimes it required upending tables and exposing practices that prevent equal access.
Did you know that our temple and our adjoining outer court have a new hearing loop? A committee in our church called “A2A,” meaning “Access to All,” with the help of a generous anonymous donation plus memorial funds, has made that possible. Those who have difficulty hearing can tune into radio waves that feed directly into their hearing aid. That requires all of us who speak to use a microphone so that all can hear as we move one step closer to being “a house of prayer for all people.”
Recently, I joined a local speakers’ bureau that deploys LGBT individuals in groups of five to local middle schools, high schools, and colleges. We share with students the experience of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and we answer questions. This past week I participated in a panel led by our own Gwen Goodwin in a sociology class at CU. Gwen shared her story of coming out as transgender. One student asked her about who had provided personal and emotional support during her time of transition. She immediately responded that her church family had provided welcome and acceptance and therefore had been the greatest source of support. That was pretty great to hear, just two seats away from Gwen on the panel. What has happened each time I’ve participated in the program, is that students have approached me afterward to tell their own stories of how the church has rejected them. One lesbian student told me with very evident personal pain this week of a church meeting that was held to formally discuss and dismiss her from the worshipping community she had attended with her family throughout her life.
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” Not everyone had equal access when Jesus erupted in anger and exposed the unjust treatment of persons approaching God’s sacred space. Not everyone has equal access to God’s house even now, at least not in many temples of worship. As an accessible, ONA, Peace with Justice church, are there any who might still for any reason feel discriminated against here? I hope not, but staying open and hearing the stories of others is how we will know.
What do you think about Jesus being angry? It’s actually kind of interesting to have a glimpse of a very human Jesus in the gospel that is so devoted to his divinity. John is the only account that quotes Jesus as saying “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Last year, a book about Jesus titled “Zealot” made the New York Times bestseller’s list. It depicts Jesus as representative of a Jewish sect known as the Zealots. They were zealous for following God’s commandments as they understood them. Jesus certainly fit the role. Critics of the book seemed more zealous about attacking the author for the fact that he is a Muslim who once identified as Christian, than they were about addressing the book itself. Zeal can lead us in odd directions.
In addition to the horrors of ethnic cleansing, ISIS is currently on a campaign of cultural cleansing resulting in the destruction of ancient statues and cities such as the 2,000 year old Unesco World Heritage site of Hatra in Iraq. That kind of zeal is terrifying and is hard for us to understand.
Jesus’ cleansing of the temple was zeal directed toward something good that was beyond the immediate disruption it caused. It was zeal for justice. To make sure that every person who desired a place in God’s house had access, regardless of how poor they might be. It was zeal to rid the sacred space of practices that took unfair advantage of the vulnerable.
What is your “zeal quotient”? Injustice continues in many forms and cries out for our willingness to take a stand. That doesn’t mean wielding a whip and driving out those who offend, but it does mean finding clear and often simple ways to act justly. Many live at the far edges of opportunity. Will we join them in the common human struggle to increase their access to the abundance we enjoy? May we do so not merely out of obligation but with zeal motivated by love directed toward a more just world for all. Amen.