A Reading from the Book of Exodus (20:1-17)
Then God spoke all these words to Moses on Mount Sinai: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
(refrain sung by soloist and repeated by all)
“The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart”.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2 One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun;*
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;*
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever;*
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.
13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation
of my heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1:18-25)
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (2:13-22)
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last Sunday, when yet another snowstorm kept most people at home, I spoke with those of you who were here about our tendency as believers to take what is initially very good and to distort it in order to try to make it what we might like it to be. In doing so, we miss the mark on what our faith and our life of faith is all about. That seems to be what had happened with the temple in Jerusalem at the time that today’s gospel story takes place.
Temple practice at the time of Jesus required animal sacrifices; and since it would have been much easier for those coming to the temple to buy an animal there instead of trying to bring it, maybe from a hundred miles or more away, businesses sprang up to serve that need. Similarly, everybody was expected to pay a half-shekel per year temple tax; but it could only be paid with a coin that did not have a person’s image on it, as Roman coins did; and so money changers moved in to serve that need. Nothing that these entrepreneurs were doing seems to have violated any Jewish laws of the time. So what made Jesus so angry that he reacted to them the way he did in today’s gospel reading?
It seems that the businesses associated with the practices in the temple had taken on such proportions that they were distracting people’s attention from the central purpose of the temple itself. The temple was to have been the primary place in all the world where God dwelled among people and where people encountered God. But the presence of cattle and birds and salespeople trying to outdo each other in attracting customers to their tables and their cages and their animal pens would have been more than enough to distract worshippers from the fundamental purpose of the temple. As happens so often in life, at least some people had lost sight of what was of central importance and had been caught up in what served their own self-interest.
But there is more taking place in this story than just Jesus’ attempt to purify the physical temple from the abuses of the time. In Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of his actions, he sets the stage for a radical change in the way that the world would experience the presence of God. He prepares for the day when God’s presence would be found most fully and directly, not in any physical place or building, but in Jesus himself. For he will be the temple: the temple that will be destroyed but which God will raise up on the third day.
Jesus himself embodied and exemplified the presence of God in the world and in the life of all people. But that divine presence would not stop with him. Instead, in the gospels, Jesus focuses his attention, not on physical structures, but on people: on his fellow human beings, all of whom have been made in the image and likeness of God. He reflects that image and likeness perfectly, but he also recognizes it in others, in particular, in those whom he came to serve. And his teachings try to awaken in his followers a fuller awareness of that image and likeness of God In themselves and in those to whom he sends them.
The first chapter of the book of Genesis declares that all people have been made in the image and likeness of God. And that teaching is a key to understanding the prohibition in the “Ten Words,” as they are called in Hebrew, or the “Ten Commandments,” as we know them: the prohibition against making any idol, any image of God. The rabbinical writers explained that God himself had already given us the only image that we need of God’s self: and all we need to do in order to see that image is to look in the mirror and to look at those around us.
But just like those merchants whom Jesus drove out of the temple, who had lost sight of the very reason for the temple’s existence, we sometimes lose sight of that central teaching of the scriptures. And we allow concern for things to get in the way of a genuine concern for people.
It’s easy enough to see that happening in some of the struggles for power that go on in government, whether at a national, state, or local level. We see politicians evaluating proposals and possible actions according to how they might affect “The Market” (Blessed be its holy name!), or what reaction they might elicit from their political base, or how they might either cater to or offend their donor base, or how they might be construed during the next election cycle. The one question that they all too often fail to ask is “How will these proposals affect people?” – not just “people” as part of, or contributors to, their own various support groups, but “people” as in those whom they were supposedly elected to serve. It is fairly obvious that some of our leaders have lost sight of the reason that they were chosen to begin with
But what about us? What about the focus in our lives? Do we, like those public officials or like those merchants in the temple, sometimes lose sight of the people in our community and in our world: those sisters and brothers who, like us, have been created in the image and likeness of God? Do we, at least at times, put our concern for other things ahead of our concern for other people?
Sometime last year, I heard a story on the radio that focused on a couple who had returned to a little community out west where they had grown up. They talked about the town’s main street, about the shops that had closed or were struggling, about the people whose lives depended on them, about their relationship to the rest of the community, and about how vital they were to the life of all the people who live there. And they talked about how so many people had stopped supporting those businesses and had started shopping at a large big-box store out by the highway, and about how that change was gradually draining the life out of the town and its people. The couple mentioned that, when they returned to the community, they recognized how critically important those local stores were to the lives of all the people who lived there, and so they bought a few things from a couple of the stores that remained. But then they concluded with the admission, “Mostly we buy things at the big-box store, because it’s cheaper.” Sure they were deeply concerned about the people of the town, as long as that concern didn’t actually cost them anything. The people, their neighbors, were clearly not their top priority.
Again, what about us? How do we make decisions about which candidates and programs we are going to support and vote for? How do we decide where we are going to shop and which products we are going to buy? How do we decide how we are going to use the time and energy and attention entrusted to us by God? All of these are essentially questions about faith and questions about priorities and values. Self-interest or the good of all? Things, made for our use, or people, made in the image and likeness of God? Jesus made his choice. What is ours going to be?