1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Let us pray: Eternal God, through the life, death and resurrection of your Son your kingdom has broken into our troubled world. Help us now to hear your Word, and give us grace to respond in faithful obedience, that our lives might be signs of the new life given through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each Sunday during Lent we begin the recitation of the Decalogue (the ten Commandments) with these words: Hear the commandments of God to his people: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me.
In this time, when Mammon is worshipped proudly in the public realm of both politics and of what passes for popular religion, it is healthy to read St. John’s depiction of Jesus’ visit to the Temple, to his “Father’s house,” as he called it. It makes us cry aloud, “Oh, for a whip of justice to clean out the corruption in our own temples of power.” Yet, we know that only Jesus has the courage and the authority to do so. All we are able to do is wait and repeat, “How long oh Lord, how long?”
For Jesus, it is the first Passover of his public ministry and his first known visit to Jerusalem as a grown man. This is exclusively St. John’s history of the event; no less an authority than Archbishop William Temple declares that it is the correct one. The Archbishop makes it clear that early in his ministry, Jesus still considers the Herodian Temple his “Father’s House.” But by the end of his ministry, when he weeps over Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” he declares it to be the people’s temple. “See, your house is left to you,” he cries, and the implication of desolation is in his words.
The Temple was finally finished in A.D. 64 only to be destroyed six years later. By then Jesus’ resurrected body was the temple he was talking about in his prophecy. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Later the cronies of the high priests will force witnesses to accuse Jesus of saying that he himself would destroy the temple, but as false witnesses do, they lied. It was not he who destroyed the temple; it was human arrogance and sin.
Why did Jesus become so angry when he saw his father’s house being made into a marketplace? The Old Testament lesson gives us many clues to the answer. Idolatry of any kind was forbidden by God. The money changers had the following purpose: taxes had to be paid to the Roman overlords, but the Roman money carried the image of Caesar on it. The High Priests, considering this image idolatry, had ordered that the money paid in taxes should be converted to the shekel in order to be acceptable for Temple business. In that exchange, a great profit went into the coffers of these same priests. Jesus knew that this was both profanity of the Temple and exploitation of the poor citizens. It was another form of idolatry, but this time the idol was Mammon, a god ever present both then and now—a god not named by his followers but worshipped nonetheless.
In today’s gospel, St. John shows the scandalous activity of Jesus in all its glory. The leaders of the Jews had fooled the people with a piety that had become idolatry and had allowed physical structures to take the place of a God who demanded, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Our culture has forgotten this command also, and so many signs or symbols have been turned into idols: the Ten Commandments are not obeyed, but their depiction on stone is approved; the flag that is supposed to remind us of the human longing for freedom becomes an idol to be worshipped at athletic games; money that should be used to educate and feed children becomes an idolatrous acquisition for those who already have too much of it, while our streets fill with homeless people; and other, old symbols of the evil of violence return to trouble our world.
We need Jesus’ courage to cleanse the temples of idolatry. We long for his kind of integrity that dares to call out the oppressors, no matter who they are. We pray for the power to overthrow the tables of the moneychangers who cheat the poor and the voiceless. In St. Paul’s words, we too must “proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Nowhere does St. Paul ever speak of a prosperity gospel.
Tony Campolo, writer, teacher, and pastor, writes in his book Who Switched the Price Tags? about growing up in his hometown in Philadelphia. The night before Halloween was designated as “mischief night.” On that night the adults braced themselves against all sorts of petty mischief at the hands of the younger generation. Windows were soaped, air was let out of tires and all the other annoying mischief which an adolescent could conjure up was done.
One year, he and his best friend devised what they thought was a brilliant and creative plan for mischief. The decided to break into the basement of the local five and ten cent store, not to rob the place (after all Sunday school boys would not do that sort of thing), but instead, they would do something really mischievous. The plan was to get into that five and dime store and change the price tags on things.
What chaos it would be when the next morning people came into the store and discovered that radios were selling for a quarter and bobby pins were priced at five dollars each. With diabolical glee, they wondered what it would be like when nobody could figure out what the prices of things really should be.
He goes on to say that Satan and the world have played the same kind of trick on all of us. Our world has been broken into and the price tags have been changed. Too often, we treat what deserves to be treated with loving care as though it were of little worth. And on the other hand we find ourselves making great sacrifices, paying a high price, for those things which in the long run of life, have no lasting value.
As we approach Holy Week, we need the love and the passion that can sustain us even unto death. We will be laughed at when we too resist the culture of the day, but we will remember with St. Paul that, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Let us be aware, more than ever during this season of Lent, that the power of God goes with us.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, your law challenges our priorities and turns us away from the darkness of greed and selfishness towards the light and peace of your presence. Help us to discern those things in our lives that stand in the way of more perfectly fulfilling your will for us. Hear this and all of our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Jim is providing his sermons online during the Corona virus pandemic. Enjoy!