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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Lent 3: Freedom and bar brawls

In our reading from the book of Exodus we hear the 10 commandments,

which summarized teach us that there is only one God, that it is wrong to

make gods of other things, that we must balance work with rest because

without adequate rest, it’s far too easy to fall into practices that make our

own work, or other’s, fall short of the holiness that God calls for. Finally, we

learn that God has provided us with families and extended families to help

us survive and share our faith and our love with others. So there are things

we shouldn’t do because it tears down our family networks.

Jesus, who fulfills this law perfectly summarizes the commandments like

this: love God first. If you love God first, as we see Jesus do, then like

Jesus did, you will love your neighbour, sacrificing your own ways and will

so that your neighbour can come to know and respond to God. As Paul

says in his letter to the Corinthian Church: it’s not your wisdom or strength

or your signs that will allow others to see God through you. Rather it’s

simply by acting and reacting like Jesus that other people will see God.

Why? Because when people see Jesus at work in the world, they are

seeing God himself.

And what do we see when we see Jesus today? Well, not the Jesus that

most folks think of when talking about him! When I think about Jesus I tend

to see someone who is calm, cool, collected, concise in words and not

intervening with physical force.

But here comes the much fuller view of God that Jesus displays to us: the

Passover is near and so Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and enters the

Temple. He looks around at all the marketplace affairs going on and then

he makes a whip of cords and drives all the people selling cattle, sheep,

and doves, and all the money changers out of the temple. Imagine that for

a moment. You’re sitting there going about your usual business as you’ve

probably done for most of your life, gathered with friends, maybe family,

certainly members of your temple, and suddenly this one whom many of

you consider an outsider starts lashing you with a whip and then pours out

the money changers coins and flips over all of the tables. He says to those

selling doves: take those things out of here and stop making my Father’s

house a marketplace.

Why would Jesus be so perturbed about the selling going on in the

marketplace? Well Jesus has gone to the temple in preparation for

Passover, so it is likely first day or the start of Passover. What are the

Israelites supposed to be doing on the first day? In Leviticus we hear: “On

the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any

ordinary work.” Then follow six days of food offerings to the Lord with a

seventh day, being another holy convocation where no ordinary work is to

be done.

I would suggest the violation Jesus is most angry about here is that the

Israelites have substituted their own labour for God’s, imagining that their

selling of lambs and doves for the Passover is in fact doing God’s work. But

the point of Passover is not what the Israelites do, what work they

accomplish, but rather what they receive from God.

In the case of the Passover, it is solely by God’s power, the power of his

mercy to refrain from killing the first born males of those who enslave other

people, in this case, the Egyptians. Listen to God. Love God, love your

neighbour. The Egyptians neither listen to God’s warnings to turn to him,

and so they do not abide his will to stop enslaving other people. This evil in

depriving others of their God given freedom to follow God, is punishable by

death. The Israelites who are likely just as morally bad as the Egyptians,

are nonetheless granted and undeserved mercy. They’re told to mark the

lintels of their houses (the outside that is, of their houses) with the blood of

a lamb so God will know to avoid killing their first born sons. Passover is a

celebration of receiving God’s mercy. It is not a celebration of Israel’s power

to buy, sell, and make money from God’s mercy.

Hence Jesus comes to overthrow not just the tables in the temple. Those

are a mere tangible symbol of a much greater overthrow that Paul gets at in

his letter to the Corinthians: your power, wisdom and money are nothing

compared to even the foolishness of God. In his foolishness, our never

changing God perseveres in wisdom exercising wisdom that only he could

execute in providing the true blood of lamb, his own, that would save not

only the Israelites, but all people who drop their presumption to accomplish

or profit off God’s provision, and instead, give up all their presumptions and

efforts resting, sabbath like, in Christ’s own ways.

This certainly isn’t a passive rest. Rather it is letting go of our own ways

and taking on Jesus’s own. The blood that protects us is not from our own

flesh and blood bodies. It isn’t constituted from our bodily wisdom,

knowledge or power. It doesn’t manifest itself in our temples or our

churches. If we substitute these things for the true temple – God who

comes to us in Jesus Christ – we will become just like those selling lambs

and doves, counting our coins of success by how many programs we

establish or how many butts in the pew we have or even whether we stay

open. The reality – as Jesus says explicitly to the Israelites and so to us - is

that all and I mean all of these things can and often are torn down, taken

away from us. And that’s okay. God doesn’t discard us in tearing down our

proverbial temples. Instead, he is fitting us for his Kingdom; he is drawing

us into his mission; he is whittling away our temptations so that we might

look more and more like Jesus to others, being dressed in the wedding

gown for the final wedding supper when God will come for all of us.

What we’re called to do is to love God. To love God is to first receive his

mercy; to rest in Jesus’s way rather than our ways. But to do that we’ve got

to know who Jesus is so that where we face the temptation to do things our

way (as Satan tempted Jesus and does so with all of us), we can answer,

not this time Satan, I belong to God. God’s got me even when I’m

confused, frustrated, scared, filled with doubt, or think I’ve got everything

right and don’t really need him so I’ll answer you with God’s word, Jesus’s

way instead.

If the source of all that exists has me, nothing and no one can

pry me from him. So go on and do your worst. This allows us to act with

true freedom: the freedom to be the perfect being God created us to be in

spite of all the false idols that tempt us to conform ourselves to in this life.

And when we’re free from the paralyzing, soul sucking traps of coveting

what others have, comparing ourselves to others, worrying incessantly that

we’re not good enough, valuable or worthwhile, we’re free to think about

others rather than getting our heads stuck up our own bleepbleeps. Are you

ready for such a mission of freedom in exercising your faith and love?

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