Sunday Reflection: Zeal and routine


We leave Mark behind this Sunday (March 19) and flip over to John (2:13-25), who (appropriately) shows Jesus flipping out:
...Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables..."

Go get 'em, Gentle Jesus!!

It's fun to hear ourselves try to make sense of the weird situation we find Jesus at the center of:
Explo 1: Ah! Such righteous anger against hypocrites!! Righteous anger has its place!!
Explo 2: Those crazy Jews! Always with the gelt!
Explo 3: Jesus is stickin' it the man!

Always its the other guy. But in making a mess in the temple precincts, Jesus is (yet again) confounding us and sticking our own nose in the mirror. The Jewish sacrificial system was gi-normous -- thousands of animals had to be raised, fed, controlled and transported to the Temple for the sacrifices prescribed by God. A priesthood had to be trained and disciplined to manage the animals and the people who would sacrifice them. Fires had to be kept burning and scarce wood continually cut, stacked and hauled. The ashes had to be disposed of. Blood and carcasses had to be carted away. Thousands of pilgrims had to be fed, housed and herded. It was like the World's Fair or Disney -- each day, every day, with the payoff being not a ride on Magic Mountain, but a few seconds on the Lord's mountain, Zion.

Faced with such a situation, what would any people do? Organize!!

Naturally, systems would evolve to keep everything tight and tidy, with a minimum of disruption and unpredictability. Nice; tight; scheduled; impressive. Orderly lines. The ritual actions repeated endlessly until they are done without variation. Without thought.

And where is prayer in this? Where does the unruly Spirit of God fit into the tidy timetable of Man? Where does even the most scrupulously honest of systems leave room for the untidy and unpredictable?

I think this is what Jesus objected to. Not Jewish piety as such, but a piety that becomes rote and meaningless and fails to address the Deity. It's "phoning it in" or sending a form letter rather than popping in for a visit.

Beware any piety that is more about going through the motions that dialog with the Deity. Beware the priest who times his homily to make sure the parking lot is clear for the next Mass. Beware the men and women (and kids) who come to church to endure Mass so their parents/spouse/neighbor will get off their backs. Beware the choir so in love with itself that there is no room for God or the assembly in their music.

Jesus is a-comin', and he's in a snappin’ mood!
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Let us pray.

Lord, you love God with the desperate love of a child for its parent. Help us to see how we fail to engage you and each other when we gather in your Name. Help us to a new life in the spirit that raises us out of petty routines and even makes our lives difficult and unpleasant. Never stop loving us enough to keep pushing us out of our circle of efficiency.

We ask this in your name.

Amen.
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Illustration from http://www.theworldowesyoualiving.org, whose purpose (as far as can be determined) cannot be discerned by the average person.