Jesus was nobody’s fool. St. Paul does say that, “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” That is understandable I think – I mean, how can a means of execution that is a sign primarily of death and destruction possibly be an instrument of goodness and love? So yes, the cross may appear as utter foolishness, but Jesus is no fool.
He had a sense of what he was getting into. In our Lenten journey, we continue to walk with him on the way to Jerusalem, the place where he will be lifted high on that shameful instrument of death. Entering the temple and driving out those who were selfishly seeking to profit off of the offerings of the people, overturning tables and challenging the prevailing system of power that destroyed relationships and held up unjust structures – he knew where that might end up.
After all, in response to the question, “What sign can you show us for doing this,” he did say, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” His challengers, in a mistaken literalism, think he means the actual temple structure, but Jesus was of course speaking of the temple of his body.
So what was Jesus up to? As a faithful Jew, he was well versed in the ancient texts, the call of the prophets, and rise of the temple. He would have known that the Commandments delivered to Israel through Moses on Mt. Sinai were first and foremost about God’s passionate commitment to all his people and keeping right relationship with God and with one’s neighbor. He understood that the Temple was a sign and symbol of God’s presence among God’s people. Why then the angry outburst and inflammatory words?
It is because the temple and many in support of it forgot why the temple existed. Jesus was not saying the temple had no value. He was saying that the temple had abandoned its purpose as an instrument of God’s compassionate love, mercy and justice for the transformation of the world. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace,” he warns.
There is a poignant story told by the Rev. Herbert O’Driscoll, Canadian Anglican preacher “par excellence,” about an oasis in the desert where people would stop to get water. Each time someone stopped they marked the place with a stone. Over time those stones were shaped into a stunning cathedral, but there was a problem. The building blocked any access to the water. This is the problem Jesus is addressing in today’s Gospel as the temple abandoned its purpose to bring life to all God’s people.
Jesus, one more time, is challenging the status quo of his day. The events portrayed by John in this Gospel add one more piece of evidence to those who would be rid of him. It feeds the controversy of whether he was preaching morality or immorality, that he was anti-biblical, and that he did not respect the tradition. And certainly his behavior could lead one to come to that conclusion. He was always doing things that upset the religious establishment: One never knew with whom he would be hanging out next, and was accused often of dining with reprobates and sinners. He constantly challenged theological assumptions. And he was always telling interesting little stories about God. Interesting little stories I say; they were really quite radical. St. Paul might call them foolish, but really they were the power of God.
God’s foolishness you see is a crucified Christ. The idea of a suffering savior was hard to tolerate and it still is. But it is exactly the kind of savior we need and it points to the kind of God we have. Over the last few weeks we have again been assaulted by horrific images of pain and tragedy. Not only in Parkland, Florida, but in Central Michigan where there was another shooting, white nationalist sabre rattling around the country, Atlantic Coast and Northeast storm destruction, nuclear threats from Putin and the United States, and the list goes on. Jesus enters into this pain with us, even taking it on himself. It makes no sense to the rational Greek mind, the wisdom of the wise, nor to the religious looking for signs or displays of miracles.
All Jesus was trying to say is that God loves us, and God’s love and acceptance of us is unconditional and free, bought with the price of his own life. And that is exactly what some people did not want to hear and still don’t. We want conditions. We want people to show they deserve it somehow. Not for ourselves of course, just those others, whoever they are. He kept chiding the religious authorities for being so rigid about their rules that tried to force people to do the “right thing” or be labeled as sinners, as if that was ever going to save anyone. Jesus kept saying God loves you, God loves you, God loves you; your sins are forgiven.
Our call, and the call of Noel as she is confirmed today, is to more clearly reflect God’s vision as seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We promise to support her in this process of transformation, hers and ours, for it is never ending. t is through our presence, by what we do here in and through this temple of St. Alban’s, that we become a part of God’s new creation and serve as instruments of God’s grace, mercy, love and justice, challenging every system or structure of our community and world that keeps God’s people from living the life abundant called forth in Christ. It is why he overturned the tables, it is why he gave his life, it is why we are a church, and it is why we celebrate with Noel.