Sunday, 15 March 2009

Eyes of Fire

3rd Sunday of Lent

John 2:13-24

Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.

For a long time, my image of Jesus was reflected, not in the many artistic masterpieces that have tried to capture him, but in Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus in the television series Jesus of Nazareth. Actually this image of a tall, white, ethereal gentle man, while owing nothing to the likely physical characteristics of a rural Palestinian, pretty well fits in with most of the visual images that, we in the West, have of Jesus; that he was born meek and mild, and seemed to spend his whole ministry acting like the quiet lamb who is eventually led, willingly, to the slaughter.

Well, thank goodness, that even Robert Powell's Jesus found a voice in the scene that represented this week's Gospel. It is one of the dramatic counterpoints of the series, where Jesus truly loses it with the people who are using the faith of their community and countrymen to make a quick buck. The courtyard, within the Temple grounds, was used not only by the moneychangers who made their profit exchanging Roman coin for Temple money (plus commission) but by venders who had set up stalls for the selling of birds, lambs, goats and calves to be offered in sacrifice. Doubtless there would have been other vendors selling candles, oils, incense; whatever could be sold would have been sold.

God had told his people, how many times, that His Covenant was with them. He'd made the world, he didn't need it offering back to him. He didn't drink blood or ask for sacrifice like the little idols of the other religions. Their relationship with God didn't depend on how many sacrifices they could afford. In fact the only sacrifice God did ask for, their heart and their love, was the one thing missing in the Temple market.

After the time that Jesus had been spending, living with the poor, the criminals and the unwanted and knowing their need to experience God's Love, but being denied by Temple Law, the last thing he would have wanted to see was this further barrier to his Father. If anyone has ever been in a Eastern bazaar, you can imagine the chaos that would have broken out as tables were overturned, people scrabbling to pick up money, livestock screeching and flailing, cages breaking open. It would have seemed as though one of the sand devils from the desert has hit causing pandemonium and in the midst of it Jesus, incandescent with rage.

I love that image, I love that Jesus. Because that is the Jesus that I need in my life - maybe not 'rage' all the time; but passion and power and energy and so alight with the Divine that his heart and his eyes shine out of his body. I need that Jesus to come into my head full of limitations and expectations and throw them all out. I need that Jesus to drag me along the path when I am feeling tired and downhearted. I need that Jesus to challenge me to do more, to be more.

How can he not have been like that? Because only when you have all that power can it mean something when you do submit to being a servant, to making the sacrifice. Jesus has that power and never uses it to his advantage, only ever to point the way to his Father, to wake us up from our complacency and show us the potential of a life filled with a passionate belonging to God as he belongs to God and to us.

When you have that power, which is the strength and grace given through relationship with God you can overturn the world's values and know the truth.

wordinthehand2009

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