Lent 3 :: Cleansing the Temple of Injustice

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O God, my strength and my redeemer."

Selma_March_web

Selma: Marching for Freedom

Today [Yesterday 7 March, 1965] marks the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday

Voter rights for Blacks

Death of Deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson earlier in February

March from Selma to Montgomery [the capital]

State Troopers [including posses of white men over the age of 21, called up by the sheriff] barred the way off the Edmund Pettus Bridge

17 Marchers were hospitalized

Images of the melee went viral worldwide

This helped to spark the Voter’s Rights Act of 1965

We also hear today of Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple

Jesus in Jerusalem for Passover

Comes to the Temple and sees the exchange of money and the buying of animals for sacrifice

Jesus gets angry with a system that exploited the people so much that they were taught the only way to a relationship with God was one mediated through the sacrificial religious system set up by those in charge

Explore the “violence” vs. “anger” angle

Jesus was angry, not violent

His actions were directed against the system, not against people

He used his cord on the animals to drive them away, he did not use them on the people

Selma and Jesus:

Jesus chased the money changers out of the Temple, upending the religious system intent on keeping people from having direct access to God.

The Selma Marchers on Bloody Sunday and the following weeks and months sought to chase out those who thrived on and protected a system of fear and oppression intent on keeping people from having direct access to a democratic system of governance.

Both Jesus and the Marchers sought non-violent means to upend institutional systems of injustice and repression.

Today we are still beset with injustice in our world

Racial [cf. Justice Department’s Ferguson report just out this week]

Economic

Social

Too many people being discounted simple because of who they are or where they love or what their gender is

Religious [cf. the evil done by Isis]

But, for me, the greatest injustice is that we continue to think that the way to tackle these concerns in our world is through throwing our weight around

Want to unseat the evils of Isis or Boko Haram? Let’s send our military might to wipe them from the earth. So. How did that work in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Not happy that people who are different from us are moving into our communities? Let’s enact legislation that keeps them on the other side of our borders.

Not thrilled with someone else’s religion? Let’s make sure they aren’t allowed to freely exercise their religion near us.

Not happy with the government? Buy them out.

Not happy with our political system? Don’t vote.

Not too thrilled that poor people are coming into our communities and don’t have the decency to sleep somewhere other than in front of our stores our under our bridge or in our parks? Enact a city ordinance making it illegal to camp overnight in the city limits and keep others from feeding the hungry in public.

Can we not see that in doing these things we may be following conventional wisdom—after all everyone seems to be reacting to these issues in this way—but we are far from acting the way Christ is calling us to act. We follow the wisdom of the world to our peril.

This is clearly the point St. Paul is trying to impress upon his readers: "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.” 

Working against systems of oppression and violence and degradation by using those very methods of oppression, violence, and degradation may be the way the world has handled things in the past, but I’ve gotta ask: How’s that been working for us?

Instead we are called into the way of the cross, the way of self-sacrifice in service to others. And this is a way that does not insist on forcing itself on others. One is not compelled into taking up the cross. No. The cross of Christ is that which we gladly bear. It is indeed a gift that we give to others by giving ourselves, as Jesus first gave that gift to the whole world. And yes. This is foolishness. This is downright batty. Crazy. Even idiotic. St. Paul used a term for this way of life that is the basis for our word “moronic.” And, when compared with the conventional worldly wisdom of empire and power and strength, the cross is foolish indeed. Indeed, that which the world considers strength is—in the economy of salvation history—its greatest weakness.

So how might things look if we decided to take up that foolishness and work to overturn the tables of our world today, like those Freedom Marchers in the 60s and like Jesus that Passover so many years ago? What does the weakness of God mean?

It means engaging the evils of religious intolerance with love and forgiveness and striving to understand the roots of such intolerance and terror in order to build a strategy to overcome it

It means getting to know those in our neighborhoods who are different from us and seeking ways to welcome them into our lives and our homes

It means working to increase our knowledge of religions which are different from ours and understanding that God is a God who people have come to know and worship in many different ways 

It means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless and visiting those alone or in prison or in hospital

It means working tirelessly with our neighbors to confront injustice wherever it may be found and acting in ways to fundamentally undermine and overturn such injustice

It means not being satisfied and comfortable with the way things are: It means never again saying, “We’ve always done it this way,” ‘cause that way a’int never gonna work!

And, finally, it means not despairing over the slow pace of change. After all it took a couple more times for those marchers in Alabama to finally reach the state capital. And that religious system that Jesus was so zealous to change? Well, it’s been two thousand years and He’s still at it!


Link to RCL Lectionary for the Third Sunday in Lent.

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