LENT 1 2013

Following Rabbi Jesus

A long time ago in a land far, far away there lived a king named Solomon.

Solomon was the wisest person ever to live, and tall, and handsome. And quite promiscuis, and very proud, and equally stubborn. Despite all kinds of warnings from prophets, and wise men, and old guys sitting around drinking coffee, this became their goal: to be like everyone else. And so Solomon built an amazing temple for God, complete with gold, accolades, and prestige in the ancient world. And in to this temple Solomon poured all his energy. Indeed, it made him famous. But under Solomon some very terrible practices were introduced, according to the scriptures. And he did it all by telling everyone he ruled by divine right and that the social order is the will of God! When he died the people rebelled, saying Solomon “made our yoke heavy.” Even more important, because of his unjust, oppressive policies, God himself said the kingdom needs to be split in ½, as a sign that God doesn’t put up with injustice, oppression, xenophobic policies, war or violence in the name of God.

After Solomon, it was clear that you could be a Jew and both love and hate the temple, all at the same time. Love it because it was theologically the center of the universe. But hate it because of all that it stood for, all the terrible things the leaders and priests did in the name of God.  We see this love-hate relationship in all the prophets. Who had the amazing courage to critique the very political, economic, religious, and symbolic center of their universe.  Isaiah said about the temple that it was “the navel of the cosmos.” But he also said that God has had enough of their worship, his soul hates it! Isaiah saw that the people had misplaced their loyalties, and were focusing their zeal not on God and God’s way, but on the temple and its oppressive ways.

Some of our most well-known justice passages are actually also worship and temple critique passages: “I hate, I despise” your worship, says Amos. Micah mocks Temple supporters who worship God on Sunday’s and live however they want the rest of the week, asking , “With what shall I come before the Lord?” Sacrifices? Bigger sacrifices? Absurdly enormous sacrifices? Even my own children? NO! Jeremiah says, “will you still, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to other gods, and then come an d stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!” only to go on doing these abominations?”

Watch out who you point your finger at! Zeal for the house of God nearly cost Jeremiah gets him killed!

Now these prophets didn’t just stop at critique, they don’t just say NO to the brokenness in the Temple system. They say Yes to a new vision, a new way of living together. They say Yes to the wisdom of God, which was very unlike everyone else.

–          Micah“do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.

–         Jeremiah: “Amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan and widow, or shend innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place.” (Jer 7:5-6)

Before the people was a choice:

–     There was zeal for the house of God, where fear, oppression, and division ruled.

–     Or zeal for the God of the house, who was creating a beautiful new world in the midst of the old where justice, joy and peace reigned.

But the people didn’t listen to the prophets. They continued to misspend their energy. And so, 350 years after Solomon built the temple, God, through the Babylonians, destroyed it. God, you might say, was cleaning house.

Jesus

A long time ago in a land far, far away there lived a king named Jesus. A man who, as a Jew, could have stood in either stream: zeal for the house of God, or zeal for the God of the house. Which way would he choose?

The temple was still the center of political oppression, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation of all the empire was trying to do. The temple recorded debts, was primarily responsible for foreclosures, and collected taxes. The priests and leaders were well known to be among the wealthiest, and stingiest, of people. Above all that was the religious power the temple had. All Jewish men and their families were by law required to make pilgrimage to temple 3 times a year. Weeklong trips like that are expensive, plus loss of wages, plus costs of the sacrifice, plus paying the tax on your animal if it had any defects, plus the cost of buying back from the priests the meat you just bought and sacrificed! This was expensive. BUT, this was how your sins were forgiven. How could you not pay the taxes, make the trip, offer the sacrifice? Your entire religious worldview was tied intricately to this oppressive system. Or so they said.

There came along another prophet, with similar ideas as Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah . He came along with the idea that the temple is not the center of the cosmos, not the center of God’s activity, not the place for forgiveness of sins. He came preaching against zeal for the temple.

Mark reports that this man, Jesus, communicated these ideas in the midst of the most important religious and legal festival. Jesus storms in to the political, economic, social, and religious capital of Judaism and performs a singular act of civil disobedience. While all eyes are on him, he cleanses the temple, Mark using the same word here as he uses elsewhere for “exorcism.” Jesus exorcises the demons of exploitation, of oppression , exclusion, bigotry and dead religion. In freeing the animals, he seems to be saying to us all, “Leave, get out of here! There’s nothing here for you. This place is dying, and dead.”

And then Jesus quotes a sermon preached by Jeremiah that nearly got him killed: “You have made this place a den of robbers.”

Jesus is condemning not Judaism as a religion, from which it would be impossible to separate him. And not Jews in general, whom he surrounded himself with. But rather temple-political leadership, whom he calls “whitewashed tombs, and hypocrites.” Jesus was cleaning house!

Jesus, like the prophets before him, didn’t just stop at critique. He didn’t just say NO to the brokenness in the Temple system. He even more emphatically says Yes to a new vision, a new way of living together.

  • Yes to Forgiveness outside of Temple
  • Yes to Spirituality outside hierarchy, God is Abba
  • Yes to the beautiful new world that God is creating in the midst of the old.

 

Rather that we are all to “love the Lord  your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” He came along with the idea that divine worship does not excuse us from divine justice. That our worship and relationship to God must spill over into the rest of our week, the rest of our relationships, and that at its core religion is about being like God, and having passion for the things of God. What does the Lord require? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Forgiveness, salvation, politics, & community are now centered in life in Christ, and not the temple. Not the temple, not the institution, not the church. But Christ. Like the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls before him, Jesus clearly sees his own community as the new temple. Jesus displaced the idea that forgiveness and salvation are tied to expensive temple sacrifice. Replacing it instead by freely offering forgiveness to us apart from the temple apparatus. Jesus displaces the image of a God we can only meet in the sanctuary. Replacing it instead with a God so intimately connected to our lives that we can call him “Abba, Father.” Jesus displaces the idea of community as hierarchal, class-based, and earned. He replaces it with the ideas of equaility, acceptance, table fellowship, and non-partiality. Paul said about the church, “You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” John Howard Yoder, in Politics of Jesus,says, “The good news is not centrally or merely the remission of guilt but the creation of a new community.”  A new community was born!

Before the people was a choice:

  • There was zeal for the house of God, where fear, oppression, and division ruled.
  • Or zeal for the God of the house, who was creating a beautiful new world in the midst of the old where justice, joy and peace reigned.

But the people didn’t listen to this prophet either.

Fast forward to today:

Before the people was a choice:

  • There was zeal for the house of God, where fear, oppression, and division ruled.
  • Or zeal for the God of the house, who was creating a beautiful new world in the midst of the old where justice, joy and peace reigned.

We have a choice, we can abandon ourselves to the God of this house, and build our house on the Rock of Ages. We can decide to believe Jesus and to see our best in his mission.

Or, “we can set our tables back up, collect our coins that are scattered all over the floor, and go outside to round up our cattle and sheep.”

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