March 8, 2015
LENT III (B)
He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.
- John 2: 15
We all know that compassion is one of the leading characteristics of love. Where there is compassion there is love. But there is another dimension of love that we need to think about. Some call it tough love.
Picture the Temple as the center of the religious life of the people. Picture the pilgrims, some travelling great distances at a time when travel was difficult & hazardous, coming to the holiest shrine in Judaism to worship. Some can afford it, but many are poor, living a kind of hand-to-mouth existence. But when they get to the outer courts of the Temple, they must change their money into a very special coin to pay the Temple fee. Moreover, they are required to bring animals for the sacrifice. But they had to be just the right kind of animals, & the only place to buy them is in the outer precinct known as the Court of the Gentiles. In short, their religious motivation is being exploited to cheat them.
Enter Jesus! He looks around at the pilgrims & the religious authorities (of all people) taking their money from them. Suddenly, the gentle, compassionate Jesus we know so well turns angry. It is a righteous anger spurred not by what they are doing to Him but by what they are doing to these pilgrims. Because He cares so deeply, His love takes the form of protest. He overturns the tables & drives the money changers out. In this respect He stands in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets.
There are times when Christian love demands that we show compassion to those who are hurting; but there are also times when it demands that we speak out in protest against those who are doing the hurting. It is important for those living the comfortable life to understand this side of Christian love. In the great tradition of the prophets & Jesus Himself, there are times when we are called upon to cry out “No! In God’s name, No!” This takes courage & the willingness to accept the consequences of doing so. Jesus accepted the consequences of His cleansing of the Temple. He was killed for it. This one event, more than any other, convinced the religious authorities that He had to be killed. He had hit them not only at the point of their prestige but also in their pocketbooks.
Moreover, the Christian voice of protest requires a certain kind of persistence: a willingness to see the thing through, but always with a view toward reconciliation. Jesus, of course, is the supreme example of what this means. The same people against which He raised His voice & whip of cords were also the ones responsible for His execution. Yet he transcended all feelings of bitterness when he said from the cross, “Father, forgive them!” The effective voice of Christian protest does not expend itself in the anger of the moment, but follows through, not seeking to overwhelm but to resolve – always trusting in the power of love ultimately to prevail.
We need to keep this in mind when the Church raises her voice against the heresies & ethical mores (or lack of them) prevailing today. She should never speak out of self-righteous arrogance, but from loving concern. When it would be far easier & safer to remain silent, the Church knows it is more loving to raise a voice of protest than to just wait around & apply a Band-Aid, or pick up the pieces. But when the voice of protest is raised in hatred, it is nothing short of murderous, as Jesus Himself tells us the Sermon on the Mount.
The temptation to hatred in the face of manifest injustice is one that must be resisted. Yielding to it is easy; paying the price for it is not, as every violent revolution of our violent era demonstrates. The exploited & oppressed can become just as distorted & vicious as those they’ve learned to hate. This is equally true whether we are talking about social structures or a one-on-one relationship with an individual who has hurt us. Jesus never got angry for what people did to Him personally, but for what they were doing to others. He cleansed the Temple not because he hated anyone but because He cared for them all – the abusers as well as the abused. It is because He trusted in the power of love to prevail ultimately that He was able to finish His work with a prayer of forgiveness. We too easily let ourselves become slaves to our grievances. Jesus shows us how to be truly free. AMEN!