So how many times have you cleansed your house since the Covid-19 virus arrived at your doorstep? Ten? Twenty? One hundred?!
There have been days when I felt like I was living in a petri dish with those tiny covid cells having a party on everything I touched, even though I hadn’t experienced any symptoms. And a couple of times I gave into the urge and just cleansed the whole house. I washed every item of clothing, bedding, and towel that had touched my body…with bleach when I could. I wiped down every counter, sink, knob and light switch in the house with bleach cleaner. And then I sprayed and wiped Lysol cold and flu killer on every surface I could find…computer, phones, keys, TV remotes, even my car. I felt like I was at war. But there was no way I was going to leave even one of those nasty little cells alive to infect me.
I wonder if that’s a bit like what Jesus felt when he entered the temple in Jerusalem during the Passover festival…like his house, his Father’s house, had been infested by a virus. Only in this case the virus wasn’t Covid or the flu, it was sin: coveting, greed, and idolatry as people were worshipping everything except God. (John 2) Greed and idolatry had infected the temple, God’s sacred house, the place where people were supposed to go to worship, pray to and praise the God who had saved them. Instead, self-centered profiteers were worshipping money and stealing power. And the religious leaders weren’t doing a darn thing about it. In fact, they were in on it, getting kickbacks and feeding their families off the profits.
Time for a cleansing! In fact, that’s what the story in John 2 is often called: Jesus cleanses the temple. In a fit of zeal --- an uncontrollable passion for what is right and good – Jesus makes himself a whip of cords and he begins to cleanse. He chases the cows, sheep and doves out of the temple like a rancher on a wild horse. He dumps over tables and pours money on the ground to be stomped on by the livestock. He shouts and yells at the people climbing over each other to get away from him.
“Take these things out of here!” Jesus shouts, waving his arms and throwing things. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
Now that’s a cleansing! I’m envisioning those tiny covid viruses fleeing my house in the same way, running and screaming for their lives.
I’m guessing we don’t like this picture of Jesus very much. This angry Jesus who’s so passionate about fixing things in God’s house, even God’s kingdom, that he loses his temper. Jesus’ zealous cleansing of the temple is one of those images from John’s gospel we’d rather not watch. I mean, if a man came in screaming about our fancy church building or how we’re misusing God’s house, I doubt we’d listen. We’d probably call the police instead. This is not what we imagine when we think of Jesus.
But in truth Jesus does have something to be angry about. To him a Wall Street bank has taken over God’s sacred temple and is selling salvation. People, especially the poor, are being oppressed and taken advantage of by unscrupulous money changers. Too many people are more concerned about worshiping money or power or their ideology than worshiping God. No wonder Jesus is mad – these people are breaking most of the 10 commandments, particularly commandment number one. They are loving and trusting things before and instead of God.
What things or people are we loving and trusting other than the God of Jesus Christ? Money? Property? People in power or celebrities? What about our ideologies or platforms or politics? Even our self-interest over and against others can be an idol to us?
Thankfully, Jesus’ anger at the moneychangers in the temple is not God’s final word to us. Thankfully, in Christ we are loved, forgiven and called into new relationship with God again and again even as we stray towards the idols we fall prey to in our lives. Thankfully, God’s steadfast love in Christ endures forever with us.
But that love calls us into a life-changing relationship that is different than what the world demands. Our life-changing relationship with Jesus expects us to put the God of Jesus Christ -- the God of faithfulness, mercy, peace, patience, kindness, justice, hope, and generosity – at the center of our lives, first in all we say and do. That is to be our response to the baptismal cleansing we receive day after day. And that is the covenant the Holy Spirit calls on us to keep. So let us put aside our idols and follow Christ into the Kingdom of Love and New Life that the whole cosmos has been invited to enter, living out the gospel in all we do and say.
May God bless and keep you all in the grace of Christ!
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Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod