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s100g03 Lent 3 23/3/03

"Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables ..." John 2.15

It is clear that the *so-called* cleansing of the Temple was a definitive statement of where Jesus was at, the touchstone, the "straw that broke the camels back", ensuring the opposition of the religious authorities to the message Jesus brought. The other gospel writers recall this incident a happening just before the final week of Jesus' life. In John it happens in chapter two - so right at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

And the other curiosity that it is John alone who remembers the whip of cords - the other gospel accounts omit this detail. It is the whip of cords which people have come to assume signifies the great anger that Jesus was expressing.

Yet we need to be careful, for the whip of cords was used, not against the people, but to herd the animals away. Similarly it was the coins of the money changers which were poured out, not their blood. It was their tables which were overturned, Jesus did not tackle the traders.

And I suppose if I were one of those sheep or cattle, being herded away with a whip was a normal part of their existence. Without a whip, Jesus was hardly likely to have been able to move them at all. He didn't have a sheep or cattle dog to do the job for him. And had he not acted in this way the animals faced certain death - probably a humane and quick death, but death never the less. The RSPCA probably would have applauded rather than condemned Jesus for the whip he made.

In these actions Jesus removed the barriers between the ordinary people and God.

Again we see the paradigm - that so often "religion" - for all it might claim to be "evangelistic" - actually effectively bars ordinary people from God. The prophet Jonah would prefer to go in precisely the opposite direction rather than let on to the Ninevites that God actually knew the Ninevites even existed! The disciples of Jesus wanted the parents to stop bringing their children to Jesus. And the Church has for centuries divided the world up into those who were going to heaven - those who believed in the same terms as them - and those who were going to everlasting damnation - those who didn't believe in the same terms as them.

All this Jesus sweeps away and everyone is able to approach. God can no longer be pictured as exclusive. God is inclusive, everyone's contribution is accepted - even the widow's mite is noticed and acknowledged.

And I think it is helpful to see that Jesus wasn't against those who undertook the trade. He made a statement about what this trade did for others. Jesus called into question the exclusivity which this trade maintained.

So often when people get "hot under the collar" it is against things and people. It is much more difficult to suggest a better way. One of my favourite magazines is "Eureka Street" a Jesuit publication from Melbourne. I read it from "cover to cover", even though I find some of the perceptions difficult. Regularly they rail against detention centres for asylum seekers, and I would be the last to suggest that such centres are the most salubrious of places to live. They regularly suggest that asylum seekers ought to be able to live in the community - yet I wonder if this is very realistic. I have no difficulty with asylum seekers. I hope ways can be found so that as many as possible can, in fact, stay and live in Australia. I cannot comprehend the despair which drives people to leave all that is familiar to them, and travel across the seas in unseaworthy vessels at the mercy of the most unscrupulous of people in the faint hope that the destination country will accept them. We must find a way, a positive way, to help people.

The church in particular has a habit of being against things - I mean the list is almost endless. In early times it was dancing, intimacy before marriage, unwed mothers, raffles and contraception. In more recent times it has been abortion, drugs, pokies, IVF, stem cell research and euthanasia.

When is the Church going to be noted for being FOR something. Jesus here was stating quite forcefully he was for the right of ordinary people to worship God. For this is what "Zeal for your house" means.

It is instructive that Jesus links this Temple with himself - effectively he stated that they, the religious authorities would destroy the temple, the temple of his body, but that destruction would not be final.

We say, frequently enough, we are the body of Christ. When Jesus is nailed to the cross by the religious authorities, it is us who are being nailed there. It is our contributions which are being rejected, looked down on, evaluated. But God is ever a God who includes, someone who accepts the offerings of all, except only those which are given at the expense of someone else.

I remember a very senior priest, someone I trust implicitly and whose opinions I value, who attended and heard me preach once - saying that my sermon was a bit polemic, and I suppose it is so. And yet the message is not to others - the mythical people *out there* who don't come and who *should*. The message is precisely to us - about how we accept God loves others as well as us. There is a reason for the polemic as there was a reason for the whip. It is part of being an "apologist" - to have something valuable to say.

As I reflect, I find it is interesting that the mission of Jesus is very quickly opposed by those who had something to loose, and it is quietly accepted by those who had nothing to loose. The demons and the evil spirits recognised who Jesus was immediately - and like the religious authorities - they were afraid and wanted to do away with him. And what had the demons, the evil spirits and the religious authorities have to lose? - their "power" over other people.

The reality of the gospel dynamic is far clearer to those who would oppose it. For those who welcome it, this acceptance is appreciated for what it is, without necessarily being able to explain it or define it. For our task, of course, is not to explain it or define it, but to live with others in the light of our knowledge of God's grace towards all.

As I look back on my life, I went to theological college to try to find out what my faith was. I wasn't able to debate with my parish priest. I am only now finding that I am able to articulate what my faith actually is - nearly thirty years later! I don't think that it's just because I'm a slow learner :-) So if you think that you too find it a bit hard to put into words what you believe, join the club! I am beginning to think that those who *know* what they believe and who like to articulate it so eloquently to others are in fact hiding behind a facade.

Sometimes I have been made to think that I'm something less than a true Christian because I have not wanted to give an answer to precisely what my faith is. I say, to myself as much as to anyone else, rejoice in the uncertainty, for that means that there is more to learn and more to appreciate. And I and we learn and appreciate through other people.

For the cleansing of the Temple means that everyone who chooses to come to God is welcomed - regardless of the sacrifices we have made or have not made and regardless of how much money we can contribute to the Temple coffers or not.

For the word about sacrifices refers not just to animals. Some of us might have sacrificed ourselves for a life of bible study, or civic service, to learn music, to build a church or to find out and articulate what our faith is or whatever. All of these things are good, but in the end we are all accepted into the kingdom along with everyone else - with others who it may appear to have sacrificed less than us or even nothing at all. They may well have sacrificed differently to us, or called the God to whom they made the sacrifice by a different name. All are accepted, and if we find ourselves recoiling at this, then perhaps this is the stumbling block of the Cross which becomes all too obvious when we trip over it.

The good news is that no one is turned away against their will - not us and not others. We don't have to worry about ourselves and we don't have to worry about others. And instead of worrying about these things - which have already been settled anyway - we can simply rejoice and learn from others the unique things they have to offer. However, make no mistake about it, it is precisely this conception of God which will be to some the "whip of cords" which upsets their positions of authority over others.


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