The Third Sunday of Lent
March 03 2024 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Exodus 20:2-3;7-8;12-17 Psalm 19:8-11
I Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

Many people imagine that clergy are experts on Jesus. While we may have a bit more information than many people, no one, including clergy, really know who Jesus is. For anyone to say they know all about Jesus is super-presumptuous because, after all, God is a mystery,

The only sources of information we have about Jesus are the canonical Gospels, that is, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, along with some non-canonical literature that purports to be Gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Protovangelium of James, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter, and a few others. The Jewish historian Josephus also mentions Jesus a few times in his books known as the Jewish Wars and the Antiquities.

Given the importance of Jesus to humanity, that is precious little information to get to know who Jesus is or was, particularly since it is overwhelmingly from his followers rather than objective sources.

All the rest we really know about Jesus is opinion, speculation, commentary, and similar. In the days of Jesus, there was no such thing as objective journalism as we know it.

The Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel is not the meek-and-mild gentle person we often imagine Jesus to be.  In popular culture, Jesus is pictured as a tall Caucasian male with flowing hair and a beard who was at all times gentle and caring for children, sick people, and weaklings. But that picture of Jesus is not realistic. Based on archeological findings relating to the time and place in which Jesus lived, he was more likely than not short, and stocky, with an olive complexion and closely cropped dark hair.

The incident involving Jesus throwing the money changers out of the Temple can be found in all four canonical Gospels. We see an angry Jesus recognizing the existence of a higher principle that contradicted the rules of the Temple that sanctioned the buying and selling of sacrificial animals. That higher principle was the integrity of sacred space.

The whole purpose of God sending Jesus was to lead humankind beyond the written law. Saint Paul recognized this idea in his epistles decades before the Gospels were composed, when he asked, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” For Paul, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” What Paul meant was that obedience to the law does not fill us with the Holy Spirit, which we call the giver of life in the Nicene Creed. Instead, we receive the Holy Spirit by faith, that is, by the hope of things for which we wish, but do not see, by trusting in God’s goodness and love, which are infinite. As the author of Hebrews tells us, without faith, it is impossible to please God.

Jesus disrupted slave-like obedience to laws written on stone tablets. Jesus established a New Covenant, where laws are written in our hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah tells us.  Jesus said that He did not come to change God’s law. True. What Jesus came to tell us is that laws must be administered with compassion and include forgiveness.  Nowhere is this more true than when Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery, where he implored the crowd not to stone her, and more importantly, said that the person without sin should cast the first stone.

Knowing he would go to the cross, Jesus marched to the beat of a different drummer. He had nothing to lose. His drummer was God, not human authority. The Jesus we see in today’s Gospel was a vigilante who resorted to self-help to stop what he believed was deplorable behavior, namely, the desecration of sacred space.  For Jesus, the Temple was for God, not commerce.

What Jesus did today in throwing the money changers out of the temple reminds me of the massive demonstrations that ransacked selective service offices and burned their records. We’re talking about the draft boards who decided which young men would be conscripted against their will into the army and placed in harm’s way, and perhaps even killed, making them cannon fodder for political purposes.

The people who destroyed draft board offices acted in the best tradition of Jesus. We should honor them as heroes. Ultimately, they were proved right. The defeat of the United States in Vietnam proved how stupid that war was. Eventually, communism imploded from within. We honor those disruptors for the very same reasons we cheer Jesus for disrupting the Temple businesses. Those of us who disrupted conscription did that because human life, both American and foreign, is far more sacred than obedience to laws.

The war protestors and draft board destroyers were criticized as “unpatriotic.” It is undisputed that they were exactly that, at least by conservative standards. But Christian moral responsibility goes way beyond laws on stone tablets or statutes in law books. Blind obedience to laws abdicates personal moral responsibility.

The principle for which Jesus stood throughout his ministry was not obeying commandments to the letter, but the moral law requiring respect for the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life.

Blind obedience to one’s country, its laws, and its government is what produced the Holocaust of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany. The excuse heard at the Nuremberg trials was “I was just following orders” or “I was just obeying the law.” Those words proved not to be a valid defense to the war crimes against the Jewish people.

Simply put, not everything about what is right or wrong is contained either in law books or in the Bible.  Why? Because we underestimate God’s greatness. Today’s Epistle states the everlasting superiority of what God is. God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom, and God’s weakness is greater than our strength. In short, do not underestimate God. Revelation from God is an ever-ongoing experience. We discover more and more about God’s creation every day.

Yes, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The commandment he meant was, “Love one another as I have loved you.” That is something Jesus said to us, not something he read out of a book.

Laws do not lead you to God and bring salvation. Allowing Jesus to disrupt your life is more likely to do that because it leads us to new life, and by that I mean, a life with God.  To get there, you must be prepared to accept disorderly disruption in your life and allow Jesus to change you from within. It will no doubt be as messy and uncomfortable as it was for the Temple businesses that Jesus disrupted in today’s Gospel, but just as Jesus focused on the triumph of resurrection rather than the agony of crucifixion, we must keep our eyes focused on the big picture of our ultimate salvation, instead of the day-to-day minutiae of rule-following.

Life with God is what salvation is. What actually brings salvation, is our love for God, and God’s love for us. Salvation means to be united to God.  How that occurs is by our trust in God, our loyalty to God, arising out of our love for God, and responding to God’s love for us. None of that has to do with any laws. It has only to do with love.

When you leave here today, don’t be afraid to be disruptive. Take personal responsibility to fix the problems you see. Write letters. Protest. Put stuff online. Don’t take the lazy way out by accepting what is wrong by going along with the program.  When you see injustice, show your love for Jesus by disruptively calling it out, just like Jesus did.   AMEN.