Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent, Day 3

Giotto, Casting Out the Money Changers
(14th century) -- image from Wikipedia
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. - Matthew 21

Yesterday we saw Jesus enter the city in triumph, and we wondered about what it means for Jesus to enter the city of our hearts. Today we see Jesus clearing out the temple, and we might wonder in a similar way.

The temple was the place where God was thought to be most present, and where Jews were required to come to offer sacrifice. The Jews distinguished themselves from one very famous splinter group, the Samaritans, who believed they could sacrifice to God on their own mountain. No, said the Jews based in Jerusalem, the proper place to sacrifice was in the temple. It contained the "holy of holies," where in ancient times the Ark of the Covenant had been kept.

Jesus was furious to see people buying and selling in ways that did not honor the holiness of God. It may be that the system had become rigged over the years, so that the extremely poor could not afford to make all the sacrifices the law required of them. What should have been a life-giving demonstration of commitment to God had become a system that kept the poor in poverty while the rich religious authorities feasted on the sacrifices. This was not what temple sacrifice was supposed to be. Wherever the rich continue to get richer while the poor live in desperation, humans are shutting God out.

Inside each of us is a "holy of holies," the place where we allow God in most deeply. How might we have allowed this internal "house of prayer" to become a "den of robbers"? Perhaps we've come to fool ourselves, thinking that we can keep secrets from God, or even that God wouldn't be interested in the details of our lives. Perhaps we've come to think of God as a micro-manager, a nitpicking killjoy, and therefore we have stopped praying.

But this would be to imagine that we could ever be separate from God, or that we could ever grow in any way apart from God. It would be to make God in our own image, and a really lousy one at that. Any image of God that stunts us or draws us away from life and health was never a true image of God in the first place.

How else might our own "holy of holies" have been compromised? Maybe, as it was with the original money changers, it's really about money. Is our fear of scarcity shutting God out? Have we come to feel entitled to what we have, rather than simply rejoicing at whatever gifts God has given us? At any rate, Jesus is having none of it. He's clearing out the temple to make way for new management, so that God can truly be honored and worshiped here.

Today, take a few minutes to sit in silence and invite Jesus into your heart. Show him the tables you have used to victimize others, either intentionally or by being part of an unjust system. (And we are all part of unjust systems!) Allow Jesus to turn those tables upside down, to destroy the merchandise that holds you back, to set free the doves that would be better given away than sold.

Then, think of something you can do this Advent to "turn the tables" on an unjust and oppressive system. How can you help somebody who has no power to help him- or herself? How can you make room in the world for Jesus to heal "the blind and the lame"?

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