BIBLE READINGS: Exodus 20: 1-17 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25 John 2: 13-22
We are part of a broken world. What is the Christian way to view what is happening? How can God’s word speak to us in the midst of turmoil?
The Ten Commandments, God's covenant with Israel, speak to us at every level of human experience. They speak to the individual, to the community, to the nation. They are moral guides to our growth as people who live in communion with one another and all of creation. They cover all aspects of life, but are summarised for the Christian in Jesus’ call to us to love God, and to love our neighbour.
If we take the Ten Commandments seriously – and I trust we do – we must surely be asking ourselves some difficult questions about the way we live our lives. What gods do we put before God? Where do we put all of our energies? In placing our energies, do we leave time for God? Are there any discrepancies between what we profess as Christians and how we act towards others? How do we keep Sunday holy when society demands that we work? What injustices do we see going on around us? Are we willing to speak out against them? Are we willing to do something about them? In this consumer society of ours, which causes us to covet from cradle to grave, do we stand up to the desires of the world and put God and neighbour before our own needs? For the command to love God and love neighbour makes us responsible for the world in which we live. We are responsible to help those who live in poverty. It is our responsibility to care for the sick, to live in peace, to live out our ministry as servants in a broken world.
What I personally get from all of this is that this is a time to live passionately. The symbol for the third Sunday in Lenten is fire. Fire gives light. It gives heat and warmth. Fire consumes and transforms, destroys and creates. Fire purifies and refines. Fire describes anger and revenge as well as love and devotion. It is a symbol for living passionately.
What I see in the gospel for today is a Jesus who lives passionately. And yes, I admit it. I feel uncomfortable about his anger. That is because I can’t quite understand it. What was his objection? What was he thinking? It was business as usual, a normal day in the temple at a busy time of the year. Animals and birds were supplied for sacrifice. Foreign currencies had to be exchanged for the temple currency. The very anger of Jesus is in doing what he did! It was a deliberate and passionate act of protest. Was he protesting against the power and exploitation of the religious order of the day? That is certainly what it seems to me to be. He seems to be challenging the status quo. And it is bound to get him into trouble.
Jesus’ anger is a stumbling block to me in the same way that the cross was a stumbling block for the Jew. It seems foolish. However, what foolishness it is to buy into the nonsense that Jesus the son of a carpenter turned preacher could do any good! Yet it is what I believe as a Christian. What foolishness it is to believe that a God of love reigns over this fractured violence-ridden world of ours; but I cannot help but see the hand of God in this world. What foolishness to believe that God can bring peace where there is enmity. Yet I believe it all passionately. I believe passionately that God can bring about peace. I believe passionately that my fervent prayers along with yours can bring wholeness to our fractured world. I believe that God can change our hardened hearts and help us to live as brothers and sisters.
Fortunately throughout history there have been people passionate enough about the Christian faith to challenge the systems of the Church and the world. It has been said that if Jesus taught us anything it was how to die, not how to kill! Martin Luther King Jr. put it in the following way. "To our most bitter opponents we say: 'we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We shall appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.'"
Oscar Romero, the Bishop of El Salvador became bishop because it was thought that he would not challenge the status-quo. He had a conversion experience and because of it became a passionate advocate for the poor and underprivileged people of his country. He challenged both the state and his own church. In a sermon preached shortly before being gunned down in his church he said, "They may kill me, but I shall rise up in the people of San Salvador."
What are we passionate enough about to challenge the systems that exist in the Church or more especially at this time in the world? Do we believe that it matters? Do we believe that we can make a difference? On Palm Sunday, there will be a peace rally and prayers for peace at St Alfred’s park – will you be there?
The Hebrews associated God’s presence with fire. Moses describes his first call from God in terms of a flaming bush that did not consume itself. The Israelites were led through the desert by a pillar of fire. As Moses and the Israelites camped at the foot of the mountain, ‘God came down upon Mount Sinai in fire’. God’s presence among the people was like a consuming fire that gathered into itself, uniting while purifying.
For the Christian, fire symbolises the Spirit of God among us. The Spirit descended as tongues of fire on the assembly at Pentecost. It is a sign of conversion, a symbol of the burning away of the old self. Conversion experiences test us. Something is burned off; what remains is stronger, purer.
These are challenging readings at a challenging time. Let us be passionate advocates of peace. Let us pray for peace knowing that our prayers along with the prayers of so many others in our world can make a difference. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Amen