1 Corinthians 1:18-25
We once had neighbors who were Hasidic Jews, and who lived each Sabbath as if the Messiah had come. Orthodox Jews live in strict observance to the law -- in which, by the way, the Ten Commandments are no more important than any of the other parts of the law. In fact, the “law” is not “law” as we know it. A Rabbi friend of mine once told me that the Hebrew understanding of the “law” is not like the Greek roots of the word “law”, nomos, THE LAW. The Hebrew word, halakah, means path, direction. To follow the law means to follow a way that leads to God.
So the Ten Commandments are no more important that any other part of that path, that way. They are only part of the overall covenant between God and the people Israel. They let the people know what God expects of them as their side of the intimate relationship known as the covenant. If you love God, if you love your neighbor, if you keep the Sabbath, if you honor your parents, and all that, you are living in right relationship to God. If you don’t, well, then, you had better repent, make up for it, atone, say you’re sorry, change your ways. All that. Because the goal of living within the covenant, living in the right relation to God, is the “goal” as it were of the Sabbath: to live as though the Messiah were here, as though the Messianic Age of God’s true reign had come to pass on this earth.
When there was a Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews could atone for their sins by offering burnt sacrifices to God. When Jesus came to the Temple on the day we just read about, the Jews were in the courtyard getting ready to do just that. They did not want to use Roman money to buy animals to sacrifice, so the moneychangers were doing a good, religiously observant thing, by changing secular money for temple money for devout Jews who wanted to repent and atone for their sins by offering sacrifice. It was a public way of saying, “I’m sorry.” Devout Jews had been doing this for centuries.
What happens, then, when Jesus, one rabbi among many, storms into the Temple and throws out people doing their pious religious duty? This is the Jesus who said he came not to replace the law but to fulfill it. This is the Jesus who, in the story just before this one in the Gospel of John, has changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. This is the Jesus who says, Forget about those ordinary days, those ordinary practices, those times when you forget the observance of the law, the relationship with God. Forget about regular water and dirty money. The real Sabbath is now. The true messianic age is about to begin. Leave that old, everyday Temple behind; the true Temple is the temple of my body, destroyed as it may be by sin and death, but raised to life again by the power and glory of God.
Jesus came to the Temple as a faithful Jew, and when he threw things around there, it was part of how he was calling people back to the heart of God, to that intimate relationship with God that following the law – the halakah – the way to God – means. Whatever keeps us from the heart of God, Jesus wants to drive out.
When we gather to celebrate the eucharist, to break bread and share wine in remembrance of Jesus, we act out a dress rehearsal for living in the reign of God. It’s not perfect yet, by any means. I don’t think it will be quite so formal in the kingdom of heaven, nor will the Prayer Book necessarily be used, nor will a set of priests be in charge. I really don’t think so. But we are yearning toward, approximating the heavenly banquet, a feast of generosity and abundance and radical equality. It’s the same idea as the Sabbath, I said to my rabbi friend. “But that’s only a liturgy,” he said. “Only an hour. The Sabbath is a whole day.”
By throwing the money changers out of the Temple, I think Jesus is saying that God wants more than a mere ritual, more even than one day of a Sabbath from us. God wants all of our life to be lived as though the messiah were here, as though the reign of God had begun, as though real justice and real mercy were the rules of the day, as though there were enough of everything to go around, as though all the doors and all the hearts were open and as passionate and full of zeal for God as that of Jesus. None of us are there yet, of course, but that is the light in which we live, the hope to which we aspire, as we prepare during this season of Lent for the grace and glory of Easter.