4th March, 2018
In today’s gospel we encounter the dramatic scene of Jesus in the temple, driving out the sheep and the cattle, and over turning the tables of the money changers, while saying he can raise up a new temple in 3 days.Part of me says this is great. Jesus is speaking truth to power and bringing justice to a corrupt temple system and he is divinely acting to keep God’s house working righteously and authentically under God.
The other part of me is hearing, that these ancient people (animal merchants and money changers included) were doing something they believed to be right. I’m reminded that Jesus’s own mother Mary, his extended family and closest disciples, would have participated in this ritual act at Passover in the temple and been thankful for the services provided in that temple. So, what is Jesus doing here? Why the fuss?
At first glance it seems Jesus shouldn’t be doing this. The temple had three main yearly feasts; Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. They were the holiest events for the Jewish people. And “”every able-bodied man was commanded by the law of Moses to present himself before the Lord in Jerusalem”” (Deuteronomy 16). The journey to Jerusalem, however, was often long and arduous. And bringing a goat, sheep, or a dove for the poor to be slaughtered would have been near impossible.
So, those selling animals were providing a service to those who needed a Passover sacrifice during Feast time. This was approved by the Hebrew leaders and was considered a great convenience.
The money changers were also providing a service to the Hebrew worshipers by exchanging Hebrew currency in place of unclean “Roman coin” which would not be accepted by the temple. Whatever Jesus was trying to demonstrate, and I’ll get to that in a moment; the very act of Jesus’s “”cleansing the temple”” outraged the temple priests. Jesus’s action was absolute heresy and they would soon crucify him.
But I believe that Jesus was trying to shake them metaphorically into seeing that their rituals had taken over their lives. And that God required no animal sacrifices rather a personal relationship centred around unconditional Love.
St. Paul later echoes this when he writes “If I have not love in all that I do then I’m just a clanging bell…and we know the rest.
Ritual, for Jesus, was only an outer garment -> an outer reflection of the inner relationships we have with God, ourselves, and each other. Relationships grounded on the knowledge that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, not simply slaves to ritual.
God’s knows we come into the world naked and vulnerable and we will leave naked and vulnerable and in the short time between our birth and our death we need to connect to each other as best we can. We connect through our rituals. We grieve through ritual. We ask for forgiveness through ritual. We pray through ritual. We receive the eucharist through ritual. We bless and celebrate through ritual. Ritual is good. But crucially ritual is not driving us, rather it is reminding us of what we value already and helping us to notice what is sacred to us inwardly. Ritual is a mirror of our innermost feelings.
People say to me that they can start to feel disconnected from our Christian rituals because they can start to feel like they are doing them by rote, like it’s the same old same old. They start to feel like their hearts are not quite with it or in it; – rather just going through the same old words because that’s the only thing they know. The liturgy has lost some of that vitality and realness and so they say perhaps the answer is to update our rituals with new words and fresh language. This might be partly true, but whether we use old or new words Jesus points us to the reality that it’s the renewal at the heart of our faith that brings life to our rituals.
After Jesus left the temple he went and spent time with so-called imperfect sinners; not to change them but somehow, he knew that their openness to their imperfections left room for them to encounter the living God. And allowed them to face the reality of who they were as imperfect people, as God’s people, and begin to grow and articulate their feelings open-heartedly.
At St Andrew’s, I feel humbled and grateful to see our inner values based on love expressed outwardly. Preparation for the fair, the slow and daily work of making jams and chutney’s. The ministries we do pastorally, to talk and visit one another when we are unwell or simply need a listening ear. After church on Sunday’s when we share what’s going on with us. Coffee fellowship, Lent services, study groups, where we share our thoughts and feelings.
We work from the heart from our church office, to our choir, flower guild, Ginger n bread, showing that it’s our inner values and relationships with each other that bring, with God’s grace, the vitality and life to the rituals we do on Sunday. During Lent we are invited to reflect on that. And on what aspects of ourselves share in Christ’s resurrected life. And look at what parts of ourselves may feel impinged upon during Lent. Lent is an invitation from Jesus to pray together and clear out the unnecessary rituals in our lives, and to find the courage to open ourselves to living from the heart, together in communities of hope and renewal. Amen.
– Reverend Julian Morris