Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Cleansing of the Temple

Allright. I was asked to put some rough drafts of some sermons up here. If you are uncomfortable with religious topics, please feel free to ignore. I almost never say what
is actually written..but here is a draft for the upcoming Gospel of John:2..the cleansing
of the temple.

My father is a linguist. I spent the first 6 years of my life in Tokyo, Japan, where my dad was a missionary for the Lutheran Church.

Our household consisted of both my parents, our obasan (or nanny) my older foster-brother Kevin, myself, my sister Tania and my foster-sister Yuki-ye. When I was 5, my mom left for a month with my two younger sisters..leaving Kevin and myself in my dad's care.

He was determined to be a great father. He was going to surprise my mother with his child-rearing skills. He would not only keep us safe and happy, but he would educate us beyond her belief. His zeal was overwhelming.

At our first night for dinner my father announced to Kevin and I that we would now speak a different language in every room of the house. Japanese (the only language we were comfortable with) would only be spoken in the kitchen. The dining room and study would be for English, the living room Amharic, and so on.

By the end of that first week Kevin and I were repeatedly saying Nan des ka(Japanese)....algu ba num no entiendo or I don't 6 different languages.To this day, I can say, I don't understand in a variety of languages. Unfortunately, that is almost all I can say.

It wasn't until Kevin and I decided to sleep in the kitchen so we could actually have a conversation, that our obasan finally put her foot down and insited this nonsense stop. In his zealousy to be a great father, my dad had forgotten that we were children.

To lose our perspective (our intentions) in the midst of our intense desire and devotion to a cause, is an easy thing to do.

In today's Gospel we see Jesus lose his patience at the injustices at the temple. He overturns tables, and drives people out of the temple. Jesus tells the dove sellers, "take those things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a market-place!...and his disciples remembered
that it was written: 'Zeal for your house will consume me.' "(John 2:15-17 )

To illustrate how easy it is to fall into this trap. The trap of justifying unjust actions, I would like to share with you a story titled The Dove Seller. It is the story of the cleansing of the temple, told by the perspective of the dove seller. Written by Sarah M. Foulger from Season's of
Change Mental Health Agency in Maine.

The Dove Seller
I’m trying to understand what happened. I’m trying to make sense of what Jesus of Nazareth did. My next door neighbor says, "It’s about time somebody did something about the corruption in Jerusalem." But as far as I’m concerned what Jesus did is just plain crazy. And honestly, what is the big deal here? It’s Passover. Every faithful Jew in the region is expected by law to come to Jerusalem for the Passover. But Jews from all over the world come too. The place is mobbed!
Everyone who comes to the Temple is required to pay a Temple tax. and it must be paid in sanctuary shekels. Foreign coins are unclean. It may be alright to pay other debts with foreign coins but the debt to God must be paid in coins that are blessed. Only temple shekels are pure enough for a temple tax. Jesus must know this. And how are people supposed to pay their temple tax if they can’t exchange the coins they bring from Rome and Egypt and Greece? This is way it has always been. Doesn’t Jesus know that?
In my opinion he is being unreasonably judgmental and demanding. The money-changers are providing a service. Of course, they charge a lot of money for this service but that’s to be expected, isn’t it? I’ve heard people complain about what a hardship this is. Most Jews are poor. Of course, it’s a hardship. But life is hard and I don’t make the rules. I can’t change the rules. If Jesus thinks he’s going to storm in here and change the rules, he’s got another thing coming!
I’ve heard people complain that the temple is rich. "They have millions of drachmas – why do they need so much money?" people say. They have a point but I’m no priest. I don’t know what they do with all that money. I’m a simple seller of doves. I just do my job and stay out of politics and if Jesus knows what’s good for him, he’ll stay out of politics too!
I’ve heard people complain that the money-changers and the animal sellers are greedy but we’re just trying to make a living. You can see that, can’t you? Every Jew who comes to Jerusalem at Passover wants to offer a sacrifice to God, a thank offering. As a dove-seller in the temple court, I provide an easy way to do that. You may think it’s a racket. I say it’s just making the most of an opportunity.
Here’s how it works. We have special sacrifice inspectors and if an animal brought in from outside the temple is impure in any way it is unacceptable. We all chip in to make sure the inspector will reject any animal from the outside so they’ll have to buy them here at the temple. Of course, any animal we sell will always pass inspection. Sweet, don’t you think? Let’s just say if you want to make it in this business, it’s important to have a good working arrangement with the right people.
I realize that a pair of unblemished doves can be purchased for much less on the outskirts of town. I charge twelve times as much – or more - but every dove seller in the temple does the same. And our mark-up is not as high as the sheep and cattle sellers at the temple! You have to remember how much trouble we spare all the pilgrims who come to the temple. They don’t have to transport any animals. It’s not easy to carry animals around. Not having to bring animals all the way to the temple is worth something isn’t it? Maybe it’s not worth as much as we charge but, like I said, I didn’t invent this arrangement. I’m just working with it. I didn’t create the system. I’m just trying to make the most of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s not as if my big goal in life is to exploit poor people. I’m just here to make a living – like everybody else. The temple is big business. Why shouldn’t I get my cut? Jesus cant rant and rave all he wants about how God’s temple is supposed to be a house of prayer and not a public market but can’t it be both? What’s wrong with that?
I had heard about Jesus but I hadn’t heard he could be so angry. I tell you that fanatic from Nazareth had a whip in his hand and was racing through the outer court of the temple cracking that whip and shouting and turning the tables upside-down. He was trying to clear out the money-changers and all the other merchants. He yelled at us – the dove sellers – insisting that we get all of our things out of the temple! I hope he’s not like these prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea who think we should do away with sacrifices.1
Let me tell you something. People like sacrifices. It’s much less trouble to sacrifice some poor animal to God than to sacrifice something more personal - like the way you’re living or the grudge you’re holding. In the long run, it’s a lot less expensive to buy a couple of my dear doves than to change your life, for heaven’s sake. Does Jesus think he’s going to revolutionize the way we make amends with God?
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone so angry. My neighbor says it was "passion" but, make no mistake about it, it was anger. His rage was large enough for all Jerusalem and by now all Jerusalem has heard about it. Who does he think he is, God? The man needs to get a grip or he’s going to end up like the doves I sell.
After the episode at the temple, some people confronted him. (Not me – I try to stay out of the fray. I mind my business; you mind your business. That’s what works for me.) But some people took him on. They asked him how he can possibly justify his actions. We’ve all heard the rumors that he can perform miracles. Why, I hear he can turn water into wine. That’s a useful trick! So they asked him for a miracle as a way of proving he was really carrying out God’s wishes in creating such a stir at the temple. Well, he didn’t do anything but he had some big talk, I’ll tell you. He said, "You destroy this temple and I’ll resurrect it in three days?" What’s that supposed to mean? Did he think we were going to knock down the temple just so he could prove he can perform such a miracle?
I want Jesus and his judgments out of here. I want him to leave me alone. If he thinks he’s going to get me to turn my life upside-down just like he did the tables of the money-changers he needs to think again. Could I be a better person? Of course I could. Could the temple be more like a house of prayer. Of course it could. Could the world use a few improvements? Well, you catch my meaning. I’m doing the best I can. Well, maybe I’m not doing the best I can. But I’m not a murderer, I’m not an adulterer. I just cheat a little here and there. What’s the difference?
I guess I don’t want to understand what Jesus was doing or what he meant with all that talk about the temple. I don’t want to change. I don’t have to change. I don’t want to worry about being fair to the poor. I don’t want to worry about corruption. I have enough worries of my own. And if Jesus doesn’t watch out, well, let’s just say, he’s the one who should be worried. Keep your eye on him. He’s a very demanding character. And he’s in for trouble.

So what does this mean for us? How are we like the dove seller? Where are our misplaced allegiances and religious presumptions? Are we overzealous in our national idolatry? Have we forgotten to listen to the wisdom of God? Have we forgotten to live a life of agape love?

Prayer of the Dove Seller
Lord of Life, thank you for the opportunities you give us and for the strength and intelligence to command such opportunities. Forgive our little trespasses and help us to offer every sacrifice you require of us.

No comments: