A former parishioner told me about a special household rule that she grew up with. The rule was abbreviated to three letters: FHB (Family Hold Back). This rule was especially applied on Sundays, when her parents would invite someone home after church, and depending on the quantity of guests and the quantity of food, the children were forewarned – FHB. Family hold back – in other words, you take just a little on your plate and you make sure your guests have had all they want before you make any attempts at `seconds.’
I wonder, were there any specific rules that you appreciated, or didn’t appreciate in your home, school, church, place of work etc.?
Our first reading this morning is probably one of the best known sets of rules in the western world. In fact, my computer didn’t like my grammar until I capitalized both the word `ten’ and the word `commandments. The Ten Commandments forged a way for a community to coexist with each other. They were written for the adult population in the community, instructing them on their relationship toward God, and then toward one another. They are actually quite brilliant. Overall, is there anything that you would add or take away?
When we catch up with Jesus in the gospel, he has entered the city of Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover feast. It’s a bit puzzling as to why John puts this story at the beginning of Jesus ministry while the other 3 gospels put it at the end, a more likely occurrence, as it seemed to tip the balance for arresting Jesus. But what gets him so riled up?
The purpose of the temple was similar to the purpose of our church. It was first of all a place of Worship. A place to pray, and hear the scriptures, and reflect on them. It was a place to make an offering to help the poorest in society, and it was a place to seek forgiveness and reconciliation – this was done by offering a sacrifice.
But here’s where things get a little messy. In Jesus’ day, under Roman occupation, the currency of the day was in Roman coins. Roman coins, because they had the image of the emperor on them, were not acceptable in the Temple. It’s right there in the 2nd commandment – you are to make no graven image. To get into the Temple you had to make an offering.
To do that you had to exchange Roman coins for Jewish coins. Then you took the Jewish coins, which did not have the Emperor’s face on them, and bought an offering to sacrifice. If you were wealthy you better buy a cow or sheep. If you were poor, a couple birds would suffice. If you were too poor – too bad – stay outside. This was all perfectly legal. But it wasn’t perfectly moral.
People were being ripped-off big time. The exchange rate was way out of line, and the money-changers and animal sellers were making a huge profit. The main focus of going to the Temple – to pray and feel closer to God, and to provide for the poorest in society was being lost and it was turning into a marketplace – though the other gospels put it more bluntly, calling it a `den of thieves.’ Jesus was not impressed. And in a rare display of anger, he drives them away from the temple, overturning tables and upsetting `business as usual.’ Jesus shows outrage at the twisting of the commandment to honour God as a means to extort money and leave the poorest out.
Where is `business as usual’ hurting people in our own communities, province, country? Where have systems meant to help the most vulnerable failed? Why do we have more prison beds and less hospital beds? And whatever can our tiny congregation do to shift the balance toward compassion and grace?
Perhaps we can take some comfort in Paul’s words to the congregation in Corinth. This part of Paul’s letter reminds me of one day this winter, as I was driving out to Sicamous I had the song `Jesus Christ Superstar’ playing in my head. Then I thought – but he wasn’t you know. He was not a superstar. If Jesus were in a high school year book, he’s be voted `least likely to succeed.’ Indeed, as Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block for Jews and a folly to Gentiles.
|Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and writer, reflects on this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, and this Jesus we try to figure out and follow. He writes:|
|In all honesty, once it was on top and fully part of the establishment, the Church was a bit embarrassed by the powerless one, Jesus. We had to make his obvious defeat into a glorious victory that had nothing to do with defeat–his or ours. Let’s face it, we feel more comfortable with power than with powerlessness. Who wants to be like Jesus on the cross, the very icon of powerlessness? It just doesn’t look like a way of influence, a way of access, a way that’s going to make any difference in the world. We are such a strange religion! We worship this naked, bleeding loser, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, but we always want to be winners, powerful, and on top ourselves . . . at least until we learn to love the little things and the so-called little people, and then we often see they are not little at all, but better images of the soul. Yes, those with mental and physical disabilities, minority groups, refugees, the addicted, the homosexual, the prisoner–anybody who’s failed in our nicely constructed social or economic success system–can be our best teachers in the ways of the Gospel. They represent what we are most afraid of within ourselves, what we most deny within ourselves. That’s why we must learn to love our “enemy”; we absolutely must or we will never know how to love our own soul, or the soul of anything. Please think about that until it makes sense to you. It eventually will, by the grace of God.|
By the grace of God…
By the grace of God, may we find the beauty and the balance of those ancient commandments, meant to free us up to live in right relationships; may we take the risk of being fools for Christ, who died in weakness and brokenness, yet strangely turns the world upside down. If I had remembered that I knew this song, we’d be singing it next. However, I will share part of the text, and we’ll sing it another day:
The words are by John L. Bell, part of the Iona Community, in Scotland:
Inspired by love and anger, disturbed by need and pain,informed of God’s own bias, we ask him once again: ‘
How long must some folk suffer? How long can few folk mind?How long dare vain self-interest turn prayer and pity blind’
God asks, ‘Who will go for me? Who will extend my reach? And who, when few will listen, will prophesy and preach?
And who, when few bid welcome, will offer all they know? And who, when few dare follow, will walk the road I show?’
Amused in someone’s kitchen, asleep in someone’s boat, Attuned to what the ancients exposed, proclaimed and wrote,
A saviour without safety, a tradesman without tools Has come to tip the balance with fishermen and fools.
We may not be fishermen, but I think there’s room for a few more loving fools. May we be counted among them. Amen.