Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm not dead and I'm not for sale

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord."

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.

Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.

– Jeremiah 7:1-15

Centuries later, when Jesus was overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, he would quote Jeremiah’s line about making God’s house “a den of robbers.” I’d never noticed this connection before! Jesus drops a lot of Scripture references that we aren’t knowledgeable enough to catch. Every time I find one, it deepens my understanding of Jesus that much more.

Jesus was passionate about the Temple. He had come there since at least his 12th birthday to pray, like all the other Jews in the vicinity of Jerusalem. But he also saw that it was being used to oppress the poor, and this was one of the things in life that made him angriest.

I’ve always loved this song by Stone Temple Pilots, “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart.” While I’m sure the band didn’t intend it for this purpose (I guess it’s actually about a bad acid trip), I hear Jesus raging and foaming as he tears around the Temple:

I am, I am, I said, I'm not myself
I'm not dead and I'm not for sale
So keep your bankroll lottery
Just have your deathbed motorcade

I am, I am, I said, I'm not myself
I'm not dead and I'm not for sale
Hold me closer, closer, let me go
Let me be, just let me be

“I’m not dead,” shouts Jesus, standing in the place of God. “I’m not dead and I’m not for sale!” He predicts not the destruction of the Israelites, as Jeremiah had done, but the destruction of the Temple—this was new! We might imagine him continuing, “Don’t you see the path you’re on? You just keep riding your moneyed procession all the way into the grave. As for me, I’m not dead.” And in the second chorus, we hear two contradictory things Jesus asked of his disciples after his resurrection: “Touch my wounds,” and “Don’t touch me.”

We can see Jesus' entire ministry as standing in stark contrast to the Temple—since the Temple wasn’t doing its job, he himself became the Temple. Both Temples were destroyed by the Romans— Jesus around the year 30, and the building in the year 79. Nobody has ever rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus, the living icon of God, could not stay dead.

What would Jeremiah and Jesus say to us today? What Temples do we erect to try to control God, only to give in to human nature and do things God would never have us do? What idols stand between us and genuine relationships with “the alien, the orphan, and the widow”? What innocent blood do we shed simply by being part of an unjust system? And what will we do to make such a system irrelevant and unnecessary?

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