Lent 3 Sunday B - Temple Cleansing

The Snake and the Angry Swami (Indian Priest): A Cautionary Tale

Rolling Thunder
The following short story was excerpted from Rolling Thunder: A Personal Exploration into the Secret Healing Powers of an American Indian Medicine Man. In this section, Doug Boyd sits by the campfire with Rolling Thunder, sharing stories he heard from other spiritual teachers.
On the train to Brindavan a Swami sits beside a common man who asks him if indeed he has attained self-mastery, as the name “Swami” implies.

“I have,” says the Swami.
“And have you mastered anger?”
“I have.”
“You mean you can control your anger?”
“I can.”
“And you do not feel anger?”
“I do not.”
“Is this the truth, Swami?”
“It is.”

After a silence the man asks again, “Do you really feel that you have controlled your anger?”
“I have, as I told you,” the Swami answers.
“Then do you mean to say, you never feel anger, even–”
“You are going on and on–what do you want?” the Swami shouts.
“Are you a fool? When I have told you–”
“O, Swami, this is anger. You have not mas–”
“Ah, but I have,” the Swami interrupts. “Have you not heard about the abused snake? Let me tell you the story.”

“On a path that went by a village in Bengal there lived a cobra who used to bite people on their way to worship at the temple there. As the incidents increased, everyone became fearful, and many refused to go to the temple. The Swami who was the master at the temple was aware of the problem and took it upon himself to put an end to it. Taking himself to where the snake dwelt, he used a mantra to call the snake to him and bring it into submission.”
Rolling Thunder, who had been staring into the fire as I talked, suddenly looked at me. I began to relate what the Swami said to the snake. Immediately Rolling Thunder interrupted: “What was the mantra?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think the mantra itself was part of the story. At least I never heard it.”
“Go ahead.”
“The Swami then said to the snake that it was wrong to bite the people who walked along the path to worship and made him promise sincerely that he would never do it again. Soon it happened that the snake was seen by a passer-by upon the path, and it made no move to bite. Then it became known that the snake had somehow been made passive, and people grew unafraid. It was not long before the village boys were dragging the poor snake along behind them as they ran laughing here and there. When the temple Swami passed that way again he called the snake to see if he had kept his promise–“
Again Rolling Thunder interrupted: “He didn’t say anything at all about what words the Swami used to called the snake? Just thought they might probably be familiar to me. Must be something like the words I would use.” Rolling Thunder did not wait for me to repeat what I had told him, but asked some question to pick the story up again.
“The snake humbly and miserably approached the Swami, who exclaimed, ‘You are bleeding! Tell me how this has come to be.’ The snake was near tears and blurted out that he had been abused ever since he made his promise to the Swami. ‘I hold you not to bite,’ said the Swami, ‘but I did not tell you not to hiss!'”
That was supposed to be the end of the story. Rolling Thunder quietly looked into the fire. When he saw I was finished, he considered a moment and then he looked straight up and laughed. “That’s right!” he exclaimed. “That’s right!” His face became serious and he stared into the fire as though he had begun to consider again. Then I felt him thinking of the pinyon forest chaining (clear-cutting) issue and the other struggles in which he was involved. His “That’s right!” sounded to me like he was speaking for the snake. “Sure would be interested to hear that mantra,” he said. “You suppose Swami Rama himself would be familiar with that particular mantra?”
“If he does know, I’m sure I could find it out.” But I regretted my words as soon as I’d spoken them. Would Swami Rama tell me if he knew, and would it be permissible to ask? Even for Rolling Thunder’s sake? I wondered whether Rolling Thunder would ever tell me his mantra. I would never ask him. I turned to look at him. His eyes stared thoughtfully into the flames. I watched the shadows from the dancing fire hammer upon him as thought they were trying to deepen the lines in his face, and I could see he had nothing more to say.
Fr. Tony Kadavil

1)“Never argue with him when he's drunk!"
A man was driving without his seatbelt when he spotted a patrol car right behind him. He grabbed for the belt and put it on. But it was too late, and the red lights began to flash. "You weren't wearing your seatbelt," said the officer. "Yes I was," said the man, "and if you don't believe me, ask my wife." "So how ABOUT it, ma'am?" asked the cop. "Officer," she said, "I've been married to this man for forty years, and there's one thing I've learned: Never argue with him when he's drunk! Just give him a ticket for not wearing the seat belt.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t bother to argue with the unjust merchants and money changers who have converted the Temple of Jerusalem into a noisy “market place” and a “hideout of thieves.” Instead, he frightens them with his angry order and chases them away, holding a whip in his hands.
2) Beware of whip-lashing Jesus in April while you file your tax returns!
A man was having trouble sleeping with frightening dreams of angry Jesus chasing him with a whip in his hands. He knew in his heart it was his conscience that was keeping him awake. He'd been less than honest in filing his tax return, and it was getting to him. So he sent a check to the IRS with the following note: "Dear Sirs, in filing my 2011 tax return, I did not report all my income. Therefore, I am enclosing my check for $100.00. P. S. If my conscience still troubles me with those dreams of whip-lashing Jesus, I'll send you the rest." Guess what happened next! Today’s gospel challenges us to examine ourselves to see if Jesus will have to take a whip when he comes to our hearts – the temple of the Holy Spirit - in Holy Communion.
3) "Mother Who Abandoned Son Wins Half of His $300,000 Estate."
Did you read about a Connecticut Supreme Court case in which the court reluctantly ruled that a Suzanne Benson is entitled to half the estate of her dead son? If the newspapers are correct, this mother abandoned her two-year-old son 13 years ago. Recently the son was killed in a car/bicycle collision. His dad's insurance company awarded $300,000 to the son's estate. Mrs. Benson showed up after all this time to claim half the money. Under Connecticut law, if Mrs. Benson had officially terminated her parental responsibility, she could not have profited from the money. Abandonment of a baby, however, does not constitute formal parental termination. ["Mother Who Abandoned Son Wins Half of His $300,000 Estate," The Knoxville News Sentinel (May 10, 1989), Section A, P. 7.] So she collected $150,000. That violates my sense of justice, doesn't it yours? It's not fair. It's not right. But listen. There are far worse injustices taking place in our world than that one isolated case. We all know it's true. There are racial injustices, religious injustices, economic injustices. In today’s gospel Jesus reacts forcefully against religious injustice.  

4) Nitroglycerine and salad bar:
Someone has compared anger to nitroglycerine. Nitroglycerine is an unstable liquid which, in paste form, constitutes dynamite. However, nitroglycerine in very small amounts is what is given to heart patients to keep their hearts beating. Anger, of itself, is not sinful. The sin is in getting angry over the wrong things. We get angry when someone cuts us off in traffic, or when someone takes credit for something we've done at the office. We get angry at the kids when they're too noisy and at our spouses when they don't meet our expectations. Sometimes we get angry when we're simply tired and cranky. We don't even need anything to set us off. The media reported sometime back on a fight that broke out in a nursing home. The Spring Haven Retirement Community in Florida found their peace disrupted over a nasty incident at the salad bar. Mealtime turned ugly when an 86-year-old man complained to another gentlemen about picking through the lettuce. Name-calling soon gave way to punching and the police were summoned. Those in the way paid a price. One resident was bitten in his attempt to stop the fight, another knocked down. While no one was seriously injured, one of the men was expelled from the home. ( ) You and I get angry over all kinds of things-some of them exceedingly silly. Sinful human beings exploit religion just like they exploit everything else and for the same reasons--wealth, power, prestige. Jesus got angry when he saw people exploiting religion for their own gain. That's a little different from getting miffed over a salad bar.  

5) Jesus the meek lamb and ferocious lion:
C. S. Lewis illustrated the contrasting qualities of Jesus in his character Aslan, the Lion. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, two children, Lucy and Edmund, come to a grassy area. The field covers an area almost as far as the eye can see in greenery, except for one small white spot. The children can't figure out what the white spot is from a distance, so they hike down to it and discover that it's a lamb. This white woolly creature is not just any lamb but a lamb that can cook breakfast and have a conversation with them. The children want to know how to get to the land of Aslan. While the lamb is giving them directions a marvelous thing happens: "His snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself towering above them and scattering light from his mane" (C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as found in "What's it going to take?" a sermon by Rev. John H. Pavelko). Lewis graphically illustrates one of the great truths of our faith: Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world is also the Lion of Judah. In Christ we find both the meekness of the lamb and the ferocity of the lion. Jesus could be both the strong and gentle man who welcomed children and the angry man who swung a mean whip to clear the Temple.  

6) "In his note there was a very naughty word."
Paul Harvey tells about a robber in Oceanside, California wearing a motorcycle helmet and carrying a gun who strode into a branch bank. He selected a teller who appeared fiftyish, soft, kindly, an easy mark. He handed her a note demanding money or her life. The woman reached for the cash drawer. Then she looked again at the note and her eyes flashed, her lips clenched. She pulled the entire cash drawer out, but instead of giving him money, she clobbered the robber over the head with the drawer. And again and again. She was scolding him. Money was flying everywhere and she was beating him and shouting shame on him and bouncing blows off his helmet "until the young man turned and ran. Police caught him in nearby shrubbery. Then they asked the woman teller how come she was about to give him money at gunpoint and then, suddenly, instead, became enraged? She said, "In his note there was a very naughty word." (Paul Harvey’s For What It's Worth"). Different people get upset at different things. Jesus shouted, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" Jesus got their attention. Sometimes we need to get angry. Anger can lead to creative and constructive solutions. However, Jesus' anger is not the focus of this story.  

7) The court had to let Sweeney go free.
There is a most interesting story from American history about a man named George Wythe (pronounced with), a signer of the Declaration of Independence and perhaps one of the period's most noted legal minds. In 1776, George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and Edmund Pendleton began the task of reworking and updating the laws of the state of Virginia. The task took most of their time for three years. It was really an extraordinary piece of work. However, there was at least one flaw – a flaw that would one day haunt the family and friends of George Wythe. In 1806, Wythe suffered for almost 2 weeks from what almost certainly was arsenic poisoning and finally died. It is also reasonably certain that Wythe's grandnephew, George Wythe Sweeney, had added the arsenic to his elder's coffee. However, the only person who saw Sweeney commit this act was Lydia Broadnax, Wythe's devoted mulatto housekeeper; and negroes and mulattoes were forbidden under Virginia law to testify in court against whites – a law that George Wythe had chosen to let stand during his revision process. So despite fairly certain knowledge that Sweeney had murdered Wythe, the court had to let Sweeney go free. (Brother C. Edward, FSC. "The Law That Failed," American History Illustrated (Jan., 1973), pp. 38-45. ) I suppose we might consider that a case of poetic justice. If George Wythe had recognized the rights of African-Americans, his killer would not have gone free. Justice does not always work out that neatly, of course, but we should tremble when we reflect that God is a just God. For eventually justice does prevail. There is a time when Christians ought to get angry about some of the inequities and injustices in our world. As Melvin Wheatley once said, "There are situations in life in which the absence of anger would be the essence of evil." There is a time for anger.  

8) "Somebody ought to do something about that."
A man named Leonard Haslim got angry watching the 6 o'clock news. Hundreds of people had died in an airliner crash in Washington, D.C. because the plane's wings iced up, making it too heavy to fly. Haslim decided to make sure it didn't happen again. Haslim came up with a brilliant, but rather simple solution. Everyone who has studied science knows that opposite charges attract and like charges repel. Haslim used that principle to come up with the ultimate wing deicer. He wrapped a thin sheet of rubber around an airplane wing, with wire ribbons carrying electrical current underneath. When he threw the switch on, the positive wires jumped away from each other, as did the negatives, breaking the ice that had frozen to the layer of rubber above them. "It's like snapping a hall carpet," drawls Haslim, "and watching the dust fly." His invention can pulverize ice an inch thick on the surface of a wing. Yet it uses no more power than a single landing light, and costs less than an airplane tire. "It's so simple, lightweight, and cheap, it's nauseating," says Haslim. It may be that over the next several years, hundreds of lives will be saved because Leonard Haslim got angry watching the 6 o'clock news. (Success, October, 1990). Is there something making you angry? Is there some evil in the world that a voice within you keeps saying, "Somebody ought to do something about that." That is what Jesus did, as described in today’s gospel, by cleansing the Temple.  

9) One-man army:
Two men stood in front of a taxi cab arguing about who had the right to the cab. While they argued, the wife of one of the men stood and watched. After they had argued for a few of minutes, one man became calm, opened the door for his opponent, and returned to his wife. Curious, his wife asked him why he'd suddenly allowed the other man to take the cab. He explained, "You see dear, he needed the cab more than we did; he was late for his martial arts class. He's the teacher!" Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus had no such fear in confronting the animal merchants, the money-changers and the Temple police in the Temple of Jerusalem in his cleansing the Temple operation with prophetic courage. (The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), January 1996). 

10) Herman Kahn and nuclear war:
 Herman Kahn, who founded the Hudson Institute, a private center for research on national security and public policy, had been working on a paper on nuclear warfare, which he was to deliver at the Pentagon on July 8, 1983, when he died very suddenly on July 7. For 23 years he had been repeating the same theme: that nuclear war was not only a possibility but a probability, insisting that a nuclear war would not mean the annihilation of civilization. He believed in "degrees of awfulness," and prescribed arms control, negotiated disarmament, and a strong military deterrent to nuclear war. Kahn’s critics insisted that he minimized the dangers of nuclear war and played into the hands of the militarists calling for more powerful weapons systems. Some claimed that his thinking, writing, and speeches merely supported the system when he ought to have been challenging it. Jesus could never be accused of such a sell-out in the scheme of things prevailing in the Temple. He shook the building - and the system - right down to the very foundations of both. Why wouldn’t the priests and the other leaders be upset with him and begin to consider how they might get rid of this Jesus? 

11) The Temple Jesus cleansed:
It had a series of ascending courtyards. Your first entry was into the outer courtyard ... the place that was called the Court of the Gentiles. You could be admitted there ... because anybody could be admitted there. But if you were a Gentile ... which virtually all of you are ... you could not go beyond there. For it was "death" for a Gentile to penetrate further. Next came the Court of the Women, entered by the arch that they called the Beautiful Gate. Any Israelite could go there. This was followed by the Court of the Israelites, entered by Nicanor's Gate (a gate of Corinthian bronze which required 20 men to open and shut). It was in this court that the people assembled for Temple services. Lastly, came the Court of the Priests, into which only the priests might enter. There could be found the great altar of the burnt-offering ... the lesser altar of the incense-offering ... the seven-branched lamp stand ... and the table of the shew bread. It was at the back of the Court of the Priests that the Holy of Holies stood, accessible only to the High Priest, and only once a year. To enter the Holy of Holies was to approach the very throne of God. Which is why legend has it that more than one High Priest attached a rope to his ankle before passing through the veil, thus ensuring that (should he be struck dead by the power of God while praying), his colleagues would be able to pull him out without endangering themselves. So when Jesus went into the Temple for purposes of "cleansing," where did he go? Not to the Holy of Holies. Not to the Court of the Priests. Not to the Court of the Israelites. Not even to the Court of the Women. Jesus went into the outer court ... the Court of the Gentiles.  

12) Jesus and the IRS:
The voice on the other end of the line identified its owner as a representative of the Internal Revenue Service. The caller asked, "Did John Jones give $10,000 to your church last year?" The pastor thought for a moment, and then carefully replied, "He will!" If there is anything that strikes terror into the hardiest of hearts it is the dread acronym: IRS. "The Infernal Revenue Service." Er, I mean, the Internal Revenue Service. Someone has said, "You may not agree with every department in the government, but you really have to hand it to the IRS." Another cynic has said, "Death and taxes may always be with us, but at least death doesn't get any worse." Arthur Godfrey once said, "I feel honored to pay taxes in America. The thing is, I could probably feel just as honored for about half the price." Benjamin Franklin said that "in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." The one we will have to confront but once; the other, like gospel on Jesus’ cleansing the Temple of Jerusalem, comes around once a year, frightening us about what would happen if he had to come to our hearts with a whip in his hands.  

13) Devouring monstrous “zeal” in the church:
There is a funny story about the childhood days of the former American president Theodore Roosevelt. Little Teddy Roosevelt had a problem. When he was a child his mother, Mitty, found that he was so afraid of the Madison Square Church that he refused to set foot inside it alone. He was terrified, as she discovered, of something called "The Zeal." It crouched in dark corners ready to pounce upon him. And when she asked him what zeal might be, he said that he couldn't exactly describe it, but he thought it might be something like an alligator or a dragon, and he had heard the pastor read about it from the Bible one day. So using a concordance, Mitty read him those passages containing the word zeal until suddenly he stopped her and, very excited, said "That’s it!" The line was from the Book of John, Chapter 2, verse 17, and it was the King James version- "And his disciples remembered that it was written the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up."

14) Commercials in the church:
A little girl was taken to the church for the first time. As she was leaving with her parents, the pastor asked how she had liked the Mass. “I liked the music,” she replied, “but the commercial was too long.” (Liguorian, March, 2006). 

15) “I don’t smoke during Lent.”
The story is told of a priest who was coming back to his parish house one evening in the dark only to be accosted by a robber who pulled a gun at him and demanded, “Your money or your life!” As the priest reached his hand into his coat pocket the robber saw his Roman collar and said, “So you are a priest? Then you can go.” The priest was rather surprised at this unexpected show of piety and so tried to reciprocate by offering the robber his packet of cigarettes, to which the robber replied, “No, Father, I don’t smoke during Lent.”

Fr. Jude Botelho:

Dear Friend,

Whenever people are commanded to do something, even if they want to do it, they revolt. When parents say to their child: “Do what I tell you!” the reaction often is, “I will not!” When youth are forced to observe rules and regulations of their college, often they rebel and do just the opposite, just for the heck of it! When laws are enforced in society, there will always be some who challenge the law and there is a breakdown of law and order. We want to do our thing! But God has given us commandments for our own good. Do we care to observe them, living according to them or do we deliberately go against them?

Let’s spend this weekend pondering on God’s law as a means of loving Him!

The first reading from Genesis speaks of the Ten Commandments and spells out the implications of these commandments. God did not give the commandments for his benefit but for the sake of the people. When the people observed the commandments they were the gainers, when they disobeyed they themselves were the losers. Someone has called the Ten Commandments ten guidelines to happiness; unfortunately some have interpreted the commandments as restrictions to man’s freedom. The first commandment forbids the worship of false gods, yet all of us at some time or another have created gods to suit us and often these false gods hold sway over our lives. Keeping the law for the sake of the law results in bondage, while observing the law out of love for God and respect for neighbour results in true freedom.

The Ten Commandments Indicator
On 3rd February 1959 10,000 meters above the Atlantic, Captain Lynch took a last look at the flight panel of the Boeing 707. The co-pilot was studying a map. Captain Lynch decided to stretch his legs, thinking that the worst was over. Shortly after leaving Paris they had run into a 120 kph headwind. But by now they had climbed above the storm. The captain made his way down the aisle. Just then the Captain felt the right wing tip and he was thrown against the seats on the right hand side. At the same moment all the lights in the plane went out. Next he found himself lying on the floor. But then he realised it was the ceiling he was on. The Boeing was on its back. He began to make his way back to the cockpit. He decided to try to hold the plane at 2,000 meters. The co-pilot had been knocked unconscious. He came to again and he and the captain managed to bring the Boeing to the horizontal. A few more seconds and the plane would have crashed. The whole incident lasted four minutes. What caused it? While the co-pilot was studying the map he did not notice the blue light on the indicator panel warning that the automatic pilot had stopped working. God has given us an indicator panel to guide us through life. That indicator panel is the Commandments. The Commandments are a gift from God to help us enjoy life by not getting lost along the way.
Author Unknown

The first part of today’s Gospel centres around the temple practices which had gradually become oppressive and corrupt. The motive for these practices should have been service of God and neighbour but instead the motive was profit. All the procedures were legal but were against the spirit of the law and done in the name of religion. That is why when Jesus entered the temple he was upset and angry because God’s house was being desecrated. Jesus’ action was amazing and unprecedented considering that the temple had pride of place and by his action Jesus was taking on the whole religious institution and challenging their power and authority. Whereas the first part centres on the temple the second part focuses on Jesus himself as God’s temple. He was referring to his bodily resurrection, but neither the temple authorities nor his own disciples understand the deeper implications. The last part of the gospel of today speaks of Jesus’ interaction with the people. Many of them were impressed by his challenging action in the temple. They did not understand his action but they somehow believed that God was with Jesus, but they failed to understand that God was within Jesus, that Jesus himself was God and that true worship was worship within one’s heart. The heart of all worship would be loving obedience to God and his commandments and therefore the true temple where one worshiped God was within one’s heart.

Righteous Anger
A man lived on the outskirts of a village. About thirty feet from his house, a large lime tree grew. The tree was something of a village landmark. However, it was getting old. It was clearly only a matter of time before it came crashing down. Every time there was a storm, the man feared for his house and his life. One day, unable to bear the strain any longer, he cut the tree down. He felt sure that the villagers would understand. But he was wrong. ‘Shame on you for cutting down such a splendid tree,’ said one. ‘You’ve deprived the village of part of its heritage,’ said another.  It’s amazing how worked up people get when their own interests are threatened, however marginally. But how few get worked up when it’s their neighbour’s interests that are threatened. Jesus didn’t get angry on his own account. His anger resulted from his love of God and of his neighbour. His action in the temple has been seen as a protest against the commercialization of religion and the desecration of the temple. But it went deeper than that.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy day Liturgies’

Living the Law
Several years ago, a preacher from out-of-state accepted a call to a church in Boston, Texas. Some weeks after he arrived, he had occasion to ride the bus from his house to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the bus driver had mistakenly given him a quarter too much in change. As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, “You’d better give the quarter back. It would be wrong to keep it.” Then he thought, “Oh, forget it, it’s only a quarter. Who would worry about this little amount? Anyway the bus company gets too much fare; they will never miss it. Accept it as a ‘gift from God’ and keep quiet.” When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door, and then handed the quarter to the driver and said, “Here, you gave me too much change.” The driver with a smile, replied, “Aren’t you the new preacher in town?” “Yes,” he replied. “Well I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I’ll see you at Church next Sunday.” When the preacher stepped off the bus, he literally grabbed the nearest light pole, held on and said, “Oh God I almost sold your Son for a quarter.” Our lives are the only Bible some people will ever read! As someone has said, “We need Christians to make Christians.”
J. Valladares in ‘Your Words are Spirit and they are Life’

Cleansing the Temple
Billy Martin tells the story of himself and Mickey Mantle in his autobiography, Number 1. Billy says he and Mickey were doing a little hunting down in Texas. Mickey had a friend who would let him hunt on his ranch. When they got there, Mickey told Billy to wait in the car while he went in and cleared things with his friend. Permission was quickly granted for them to hunt, but the owner asked Mickey to do him a favour. He had a pet mule in the barn who was going blind and he didn’t have the heart to put him out of his misery. He asked Mickey to shoot the mule for him. Mickey agreed. On the way back to the car a plan formed in Mickey’s mind. Reaching the car, he pretended to be angry. He scowled and slammed the door shut. Billy wanted to know what was wrong. Mickey replied that the owner wouldn’t let them hunt there after all. “I’m so mad at that guy that I’m going out to the barn to shoot one of his mules,” Mantle said. He drove like a madman to the barn. Martin protested: “We can’t do that!” But Mickey was adamant. “Just watch me,” he shouted. When they got to the barn, Mantle jumped out of the car with his rifle, ran into the barn and shot the mule and killed it. When he got back to the car he saw that Martin had also taken his gun and smoke was curling from his barrel too. “What are you doing Martin?” Mantle yelled. Martin answered, “We’ll show that son-of-a gun. I killed two of his cows.” Are we ever concerned about whether or not our anger is based on God’s will?
Gerard Fuller in ‘Stories for All Seasons’

Worthwhile Objectives
In a little country community, a farmer had a dog who spent part of his time sitting by the side of a large highway waiting for big red trucks. Whenever the dog saw a truck come round the corner, he would get ready, and as it passed him, he would take off after it down the road. One day the farmer’s neighbour said, “Sam do you think that hound of yours is ever going to catch a truck?” “Well Bill” Sam replied, “that isn’t what worries me. What does worry me is, what he would do if he caught one!” Many of us run wildly after things we could not use if we caught them. We are passionate about the wrong things in life.
Frank Mihalic in ‘Tonic for the Heart’

Knowing the Law
One of President Reagan’s favourite stories involves a farmer and a lawyer whose cars collided. The farmer took a look at the lawyer, then reached in the back of his car and took out a bottle of whiskey. “Here, you look pretty shook up,” “Take a nip of this; it’ll steady your nerves.” After taking five or six gulps, the lawyer suggested the farmer have a drink himself. “Not me,” declared the farmer. “I’m waiting for the traffic police.”
Christopher Notes

May our zeal be for doing the Father’s will in all things, no matter what the cost!

The portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Gospel appointed for this day has proven to be something of a conundrum for interpreters through the years. What we see is the Lord Jesus in a violent rage driving animals and people out of the Temple. Years ago Bruce Barton, in a very popular book, The Man Nobody Knows, used the story to demonstrate how virile the Lord Jesus was. He surmised that the Lord Jesus was capable of Herculean strength and prowess because of his outdoorsy lifestyle and vigorous walking missionary tours. However, others have been concerned that this public demonstration which had all the earmarks of a near riot was most unbecoming of the normal life style of Jesus. Also, if this were a pique of temper, could not someone accuse Jesus of being guilty of a sin which all of us dislike very much?

Then, of course, there is the additional problem of finding this story in the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, whereas the other evangelists place it in Holy Week at the beginning of his passion. Could it be true that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice? Is John right and the others wrong? Or is it the other way around? Or could there be another reason why John places the story where he does? There is good reason to think that it is the latter. The story of Jesus cleansing the Temple helps us to understand several very important aspects of the church and its worship.

1. The Context and the Importance of the Temple
2. The Shock of Challenging an Old System
3. The Body of the Church and the Sacramental Body
4. Our Worship in the Spirit of the Lord 

 Lent is a solemn season in the Church calendar. Supposedly, it's not meant to be fun, but rueful. It is a penitential time when devout Christians have typically "given up" some earthly pleasures - meats, sweets, parties, television, movies - to focus instead on spiritual growth - Lenten Bible studies, prayer groups, singular meditation-time.  In the words of Lord Williams of Oystermouth, from a 2012 sermon in Rome at St. Paul's Within the Walls, "Every Lent, we ought to be looking at the various ways in which we get involved in manufacturing the gods that suit us. Every Lent is a time to get that little bit further beyond the idolatry that constantly keeps us prisoner and draws us back to the old world. When Jesus has cleared out the temple, when he has thrown out those people involved in manufacturing religion, there he stands with his friends in a great silence and a great space." 

But this week's epistle text from Corinthians finds us reading about a topsy-turvy world, a ditzy divine scenario, which suggests the Lenten season is the time when Christians should be preparing themselves not to go all centered and solemn, but to go flat out "crazy."  

Paul's declaration in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 is not about rising to be super spiritual, but about daring to be super strange.  Lent is the season in the church when we actively "celebrate" Jesus' doomed entry into Jerusalem and anticipate his criminal conviction and his cruel crucifixion upon the cross.

Talk about weird holidays..
A Good Cleaning

When Jesus entered the temple that day he found a faith that was stale, downright dirty. People were taking advantage of others and ritual had become more important than the condition of the heart. What Jesus did, I believe, was challenge a smug, hypocritical religious system that desperately needed to change. Therefore, a little demolition was necessary, not to mention an all out assault to clean house.

The faith community at that time was so wrapped up in rules and ritual the fresh revelation of God could not get through. It was impossible for them to "see" because they were blinded by obstacles that hindered their ability.

In this story we get an image of Jesus as a one-man wrecking crew, swinging a sledgehammer. There is no way to make improvements in an old house without making a mess. There is plaster dust, dirt, nails and smelly carpet. It is hard work. It is impossible to paint without getting paint on yourself. I am sure that Jesus absorbed a few skinned knuckles that day, not to mention getting his garment dirty.

The faith community needed a good housecleaning and Jesus took it upon himself to do just that with zeal and determination.

Keith Wagner, Spring Housecleaning our Faith
Daylight Savings Time - Don't forget this weekend we Spring Forward one hour!

This is also a great time to remind your community to check their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.  Have your youth group or young adult class reach out to help older members check theirs. 
A Passover Crowd's Needs

It's estimated that the population of Jerusalem would swell from 50,000 to 180,000 at Passover. Pilgrims would come from as far away as Persia, Syria, Egypt, Greece and Rome. For comparison, think about College Station on the Saturday afternoon of an A&M football game, then double that number and hold on to the crowd for a week, instead of a day. That's a lot of hungry mouths to feed; a lot of weary travelers to put up for the night. Plus, they're coming to the temple to make a sacrifice. They're going to need an unblemished animal for that. They're also going to pay their temple tax. Somebody's going to have to help them exchange their currency. Get the picture? The commercial implications of Passover were enormous, perhaps comparable to the Christmas season in the United States today. 

So, I think it's safe to say the merchants were making a killing off the week of Passover, but were they really doing anything wrong? You could say that, by exchanging money and selling birds and animals for sacrifice, they were providing a service. Now, it's true, in the synoptic gospels; i.e., Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus accuses the merchants of cheating the people. He says, "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers." (Mt. 21:13) 

Perhaps there was some price gouging going on, but this is not the focus of Jesus' anger, according to John. As far as John is concerned, Jesus is upset because all this buying and selling has intruded upon the sacred space for worship. In John's gospel, Jesus says, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace (a house of commerce)." (John 2:16) 

Philip W. McLarty, Spring Cleaning
Destroy the Temple

"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again." Given that Jesus was standing smack in the middle of a literal, brick-and-mortar temple at the time he said this, it seemed merely obvious that Jesus meant the physical building. And so everyone who heard him responded the same way, "It has taken us forty-six years just to get this far, and even so the construction project isn't finished yet! Now you tell us you could do the whole thing from scratch in under a week!? Right!" According to John, Jesus does not reply to this, and even the disciples didn't understand it until years later after Jesus rose again from the dead. 

But although he doesn't say it directly, maybe Jesus wanted them to have the wrong idea as a subtle, yet poignant, way to demonstrate that just generally they had the wrong idea. They had the wrong focus. They were obsessed with brick and mortar. Their mention of how long it had taken them to build the temple was a sign that they had lost their way. They no longer had the radical faith of Psalm 69. The psalmist endured insult and injury because of his outrageous belief that the living God actually dwelled in the temple. But some of the Jews in Jesus' day had forgotten. They saw it as their own accomplishment in which they could do whatever they wanted because it was, after all, their place. (I wish that did not sound so familiar).

Scott Hoezee, commentary on John 2:13-22
No Celebration without Confession

Another set of "money-changers" in the church seem to have lost their reason for forgiveness. Catholic priests have expressed concern over the sharp decline in the number of people desiring to take confession. We hear a lot of talk about the word celebration in our church today. There can be no celebration until there is first confession. In the parable of the prodigal son, the banquet does not occur until the boy had first come to himself. 

A Sunday School class in a church once made an unusual request one day. They requested that the prayer of confession be taken out of the order of worship. They gave the following reasons:

1. Confessions imply that we are bad people.
2. Our children will get a negative image of themselves.
3. Guilt is damaging; we need to think positively.
4. Worship should always be uplifting and make us feel good.

This sounds like the philosophy advocated by that book some years ago "I'm OK you're OK." Tell me then. If I'm OK and you're OK then what are we doing here? The refusal to acknowledge that we are sinful people is damaging the church today, and it is damage that is coming from within, not from without. We have bought in to the modern culture that we should have a positive self-image through positive thinking. Friends, sin is real, and it is too destructive to ignore. The cross reminds us just how serious our sin is. The failure to express our sin before God and one another devalues God's redemptive grace. It is not positive thinking that will remove our guilt; it is God's redemptive action. 

Brett Blair,
 Looking For a Loop Hole
W. C. Fields once claimed he had studied the Bible for years, in his words, "Looking for a loophole." He never did say if he found one. I wonder, though, if he came across chapter 12 of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, verses 5 and 6 - verses of pure grace: My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; For the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, And chastises every child whom he accepts. 

Peter Buehler, Cleansing
Why the Whip?

What would Jesus find in our churches? Although he probably wouldn't find cattle or sheep, would he find the same attitude -- religious rituals being just a business? Is the church building simply a place where people and God take care of business? Can worship become centered on the things we do, rather than the God who is present giving to us and forgiving us in Word and Sacrament? How can we change faulty worship attitudes? 

Can "church as business" be a problem for the "professionals" in the church? Can leading worship for the clergy become simply a job for which we are paid? Does the laity sometimes think that they are "paying" the minister to do the worship for them -- thinking, "We pay them to do this for us"? 

Do we think of God more as a vending machine -- put in our sacrifices or offerings or good deeds and out comes blessings? Do we misuse our (supposed) obedience to the Ten Commandments as bargaining chips with God? 

Why the whip (only mentioned in John) and the harsh actions? Wouldn't it have been more diplomatic and have caused fewer problems to sit down with the church leaders and discuss the problem? When are swift, harsh actions needed rather than diplomacy? When should a pastor just do what he believes is right, or go through the council or other governing board? 

Brian Stoffregen, Questions
 Leaders Have To Make Tough Decisions 

Not long ago a friend told me one of his co-workers had been promoted above him. "You wouldn't believe this guy," he said. "Power has gone to his head and he's becoming impossible." "How's that?"  I asked. "Well," my friend said, "when I'm late--even if it's only 10 minutes--he says something about it. And he's always on my back about meeting projections. He used to be great to work with, but now no one wants to be around him." 

Unfortunately, my friend's attitude reflects the attitude of many people. They don't understand that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions. Sometimes leaders have to say things they don't like having to say. A leader can't be "one of the guys". Where others might be willing the let things slide, a leader has to deal with the problem. 

In fact, this is the most difficult aspect of being a leader: You no longer have the luxury of turning your head and looking the other direction when a problem comes up. Leaders have to take responsibility for making things right, even when the task is unpleasant. Sometimes this calls for taking stock of a situation and cleaning house. This applies to all leaders--pastors, parents, bosses, coaches, managers, or any other person in a leadership role. 

There was a time in Jesus' ministry when he found himself in the midst of a bad situation in desperate need of an overhaul. He couldn't--and certainly wouldn't--look in the other direction. Instead, Jesus did something that no one would have expected him to do. The saying "Desperate times call for desperate measures" might apply to this story today. 

Steve May, Confrontational Leadership
You Took My Place

There is a story about a man who visited a church. He parked his car and started toward the front entrance. Another car pulled up nearby, and the irritated driver said to him, "I always park there. You took my place!" The visitor went inside and found that Sunday School was about to begin. He found an adult class, went inside, and sat down. A class member approached him and said, "That's my seat! You took my place!" The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday School, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down in an empty pew. Within moments another member walked up to him and said, "That's where I always sit. You took my place!" The visitor was troubled, but said nothing.  

Later, as the congregation was praying for Christ to be present with them, the visitor stood, and his appearance began to change. Scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and cried out, "What happened to you?" The visitor replied, "I took your place." 

Some things that happen in church are silly. Some things are downright scandalous. Some things may even be sacrilegious. But the Church is still the body of Christ and it was for the Church that Christ died. 

B. Richard Dennis, Over My Dead Body!

To know and to serve God, of course, is why we're here, a clear truth, that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard. But a little faith will see you through. What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word. 

What is the last word, then? 

Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids - all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. 

Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married, New York: Viking, 1989. From the essay: The Meaning of Life.