Lent 3

So the Vestry and I got together this week and decided on a new policy.  From next week on, you will all have to provide your own bread for the Mass, brought up individually at the Offertory.  But since we can’t trust any of you to bring bread that’s good enough for something like the Mass, well, you’re just going to have to buy the bread we’ll be baking here.  And since our baker is Australian, he only accepts Australian money, and so a volunteer will assist you in exchanging your currency at the going rate, which is means you’ll be getting 72 cents on the dollar worth of bread.  And since the Australian baker uses a metric scale, who really knows how much bread you’ll get anyway.  The good news is, every time you lose in this new economy, I win.


Sounds delightful, no?  Welcome to the Temple in 30 A.D.  That scenario is enough to make anyone lose it, and if that Temple is owned by your Father, well, that’s a setup for disaster.


This week we get a picture of Jesus most of us rarely contemplate.  Our “gentle savior has turned violent.  This Sunday he erupts into unrestrained anger when he sees people vending oxen, sheep, and doves right within the temple, sees money-changers doing business (in His Father’s house.)


“Not only is this unlike the Jesus we know, but doesn’t it violate the holy workings of the temple?  These trades-people were selling animals simply because living animals were needed for burnt offerings.  People had to get their sacrifices from somewhere.  And they had to get their money changed, since so many of them came from lands with different currencies.  Sounds quite reasonable doesn’t it?


Not to Jesus.  He screams, “You are desecrating my Father’s temple!”  He grabs some cords and yanks them into a knot.  He whips the vendors.  Whips them!  Quite a terrible sight.  And he heaves into an unholy mess on the floor the carefully sorted coins, and then finishes up by hurling the tables into the chaos he has created!


“What is going on?


“Some external reasons for his vehemence are evident.  Vendors were allowed only in the courtyard of the temple, not inside where they now had positioned themselves.  And the dishonest practices of outdoor market-places had stolen their way into the temple.  The thumb on the scale, the inflated prices, all of that.”[1]


Jesus also knew the internal reasons – He knew the hearts of those vendors, those money changers, and worst of all, He knew the hearts of the temple priests who allowed and even encouraged these things.  Jesus knew that those who had been entrusted to know the loving heart of God and to spread that love to His people had turned, turned to outright criminality.  It was too much for Jesus to take.


There is an old medieval saying: Omnis Christi actio nostra est instruction: every act of Christ is a teaching for us.  What is it that we are supposed to learn from Jesus today?


I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.  I’ve learned that I bridle at limits.  Especially moral limits, I think we all do, that our society does.  “Our talk complains of guilt trips and warns us against the tyranny of shoulds.  But, as is often the case, we caution ourselves against the sins we are least likely to commit.  Our problem is not that we are a guilt-ridden and scrupulous people.  We are not self-denying ascetics.  We are not crimped by moral confinement.  It’s usually just the opposite.”


We resist limits.  We bristle at anything that might hold us responsible or duty-bound.  This not only means trouble for those around us, it also means trouble for God.  “People who delude themselves into thinking they have no limits soon start thinking they are gods themselves.”[2]


Jesus teaches us today that if we live as if we have no limits, God will eventually take some cords and show us exactly where those limits lie.  Thankfully, this is the same God whose property it is to always have mercy, even if that mercy seems at times to be appallingly strange, like a whip in a temple, or the one righteous man laying down His life for His friends.


Sometimes I don’t know which of my sins are worthy of a whip, but sometimes I do.  This Lent is a good time to consider which sins of ours are indeed whip-worthy, to ask God for the wisdom to know where our limits lie, and to thank Him for the grace and mercy to live within them.


[1] Fr. John J. Foley, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/3LentB030418/reflections_foley.html

[2] John Kavanaugh, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/3LentB030418/theword_kavanaugh.html

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