So, I’m sure you’ve never done this but… Have you ever seen something, or read something, or heard something and it bothered you, and then you sat there and let that bothered feeling grow? Sometimes I think of it like a snowball that rolls around and collects all my irritation about everything else into one compact ice ball that all I can think about is hurling it at the person who started this whole thing.
Let me tell you. This is so dumb. I was listening to this podcast and they were talking about Empire and Rome and Early Christianity and one of them asked about the Pope and then they talked about the Pope as if the person in that position had always been the Pope and not just a bishop of a major city and there wasn’t 400 of religious development and creating of the structure. And I’m screaming in my car, out of frustration. When I got home I planned out what I would comment to these folks, who did say one could comment with corrections and they all started with, “Well actually, according to my Early Church History professor and Wikipedia…” I couldn’t figure out how to comment without sounding like a jerk. So I didn’t… Yet.
Which, of course, is the most mundane and ridiculous of things to be upset about. There are other people’s Facebook posts, politicians, the comment your weird uncle said at Christmas. Sometimes that little snowball started way earlier and this is what got it moving. Sometimes you can’t really even pinpoint what has this rage growing, you just know it’s there.
When we started looking at the Gospel of John, I said everything was going to be read through the first chapter, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God became human and lived here. And I think what we see at the start of this encounter is incredibly human.
Jesus is in the temple. He’s seeing the hustle and bustle of a festival day. For Passover, Jewish people came from all over the known world to off their sacrifices to God in the temple–the temple was the place where they would meet God. It wasn’t the only place God lived but it is the place where they were promised communion–connection with God. Passover, this festival day, was given to them by God making this pilgrimage to Jerusalem required by all who worshiped the God of Abraham and Sarah. The temple was bursting with people. The coins that they used at the temple couldn’t have a face on them and roman coins always did, so they change them for the local coins. If there were traveling, say, 100 miles from Nazareth, they probably wouldn’t bring an animal with them because what if it became imperfect along the way, was injured or sick. With their exchanged money they would buy an animal and they would make their offering.
Now, if you have been a church attendee at this church or one like it, you probably would expect to hear this story in the season of Lent–when it would still line up with Passover and Jesus’ final week. This Temple incident is in all 4 Gospels, so it’s something we have to deal with. For the other 3 Gospel writers, Jesus’ temple… incident is the reason the leaders give for finding a way to have him killed. For the writer of John, this is one of the ways to frame what is to come, it is one of the beginnings of this story. But this Gospel writer gives us different reasons for what is happening. This isn’t about there being cheats and thieves and robbers in the temple. This isn’t about any evil that the Jewish leaders and merchants were participating in. The reason Jesus gets up, with the whip that he made while the ball of rage grew in him was about the marketplace-ness of it, the buying and selling in general, the economics of communing with God.
So I wonder what he saw. The Gospel of Mark and the Book of Acts talks about beggars outside of the temple. In Luke, we hear about Anna who lived at the temple after her husband had died. The temple seems to have been a gathering place for those who were in need. Maybe, Jesus watched one of those in need, one of those with few or no resources, not able to offer their sacrifice, not able to pay to have access to God this year. Maybe he thought about those who had been driven out to far flung ends of the empire and couldn’t afford to make the trip to Jerusalem, where they outside of God’s blessing this year? Again?
I wonder if Jesus thought about that verse from the prophet Isaiah we talked about in Advent, about how the day is coming when that which we need will be free and from the prophet Amos how God longs for justice and mercy more than our strict adherence to the worship.
I wonder if Jesus thought about all the people who arrived at this scene, this temple with a marketplace in its entryway, and grieved and raged about how this had become a barrier and not a gateway to God.
I think about all the ways that people have put gateways between God, for themselves or others. There are churches where being gay or lesbian will keep you from ordination or membership or, really, participation. There are churches where being divorced is an obstacle to full participation. There are some churches that demand that you believe in a particular way–not just that you believe in God but God in a particular way, with specific characteristics. Or that one believe in the Bible and in their particular interpretation of it. Or some churches will police doubts and questions.
There are some churches that to fully participate in the church you have to have prayed particular words, that access to God means being saved in the same way as everyone else. There are “right” prayers, “right” practices, right ways of being. And you know what, all of that assumes that the persons making the expectations knows the right way to meet God. Knows the right way to commune with God. Knows the right way to access God and its is probably through the ministry that they are offering. And it doesn’t mean that people aren’t meeting God there. It doesn’t mean that the church that leaves out the gays and those divorced and the couple living together who aren’t married and… and… but it does make me wonder about Jesus in the temple.
And many can still be an issues of gatekeeping in churches. I’ve heard of some churches making a minimum tithe requirement or publishing what each person gives. And there are economics to churches–there are light bills and we know when August rolls around and we appreciate having air conditioning in this room on Sunday mornings. But what you can offer in your resources or time or energy or prayers does not keep you from this worshiping community.
Do not turn God’s house into a marketplace, a place where meeting God, communing with God, becomes a transaction–where one has to do or be or give to meet God. Jesus comes to the temple and says enough of this. And the proof that this is enough is that to meet God all one has to do is meet the Christ, the God with us, Jesus. Jesus talks about himself as the temple that will be killed and raised and in Jesus we can meet God. This isn’t that Jesus is taking over Judaism, this isn’t that Jesus is replacing or superseding Judaism, Jesus will remain a faithful Jew, it is that there shouldn’t be a cost to meeting God. God can be found in communion with Jesus, in communion with what God has made a loves. Richard Rohr reminds us of the ancient tradition of the church and its mystics that Christ, present at creation, imbued all that was created in the light of Christ. Do you want to know God? Look for Jesus who is the eternal Christ. What to meet Christ? Search the face of your neighbor, your family, the person passing by you in the grocery store, the person driving next to you on the highway–carefully.
Everything, everything in the Gospel of John is filtered through that first chapter. This week I read a different translation that first chapter of John translated by 15th century scholar Erasmus. Consulting all the sources available he wrote:
It all arose out of a Conversation,
Conversation within God, and in fact the
Conversations was God. So god started the discussion,
and everything came out of this, and nothing happened without consultation.
This was the life, life that was the light of all,
shining in the darkness, a darkness which neither understood nor quenched its creativity.
The subject of the Conversation, the original light,
came into the world, the world that had arisen out of his willingness to converse.
He fleshed out the words but the world did not understand.
He came to those who knew the language, but they did not respond.
Those who did become a new creation (his children), they read the signs and responded.
These children were born out of sharing in the creative activity of God.
They heard the conversation still going on, here, now, and took part,
discovering a new way of being people.
To be invited to share in a conversation about the nature of life,
was for them, a glorious opportunity not to be missed.
How do we meet God? There isn’t one way. But it certainly isn’t by one person telling you this is how you meet God. It is in and through and amongst relationship. It is in conversation and discernment and questions. It is gathering together, sharing hopes and dreams, disappointments and fears, needs and celebrations. It is sharing our prayers, lifting up one another. We meet God in conversations with people who aren’t like us, by expanding the welcome far beyond what even makes us comfortable because the Word, the Divine Conversation created them, too. Because no one is outside of God’s love. It is humans who get in the way of what God is already doing, what Jesus has already revealed. Instead, we are invited to join in the conversation, already going on, about the nature of life, which is glorious, opening the door without barriers, extending the table without restriction, to all, to be part of the Conversation which isn’t to be missed.