Monday, March 9, 2015

Making Space for the New Life - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!

We just said those words. But why? I mean, it is so easy to say them without thinking about them, in a “that-was-a-nice-reading-and-I’m-sitting-down-now-Jesus-Christ” kind of way. But we say, PRAISE to you Lord Jesus Christ. Praise.

If I really think about the context in which I just said those words, I may have thought twice about having just said them. I mean, we just praised Jesus for flipping over tables. And, just a few moments ago, after the first reading, we thanked God for the Ten Commandments.

Does this jive with what I really think about these readings?

Misconceptions of Flipping Tables

Over my years since college, my understanding of these readings has changed profoundly. In college, I used to see this gospel as Jesus simply getting angry, doing his whole socio-politico-religious revolution kind of thing. In grad school, I saw it as a snarky response to the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. Lately, I’ve liked the internet meme that says, “WWJD? Flipping over tables is always an option.”

But a couple years ago, I discovered something in Pope Benedict’s writings. He mentioned that this whole flipping-over-tables scene happens in the Court of the Gentiles. This was a big deal for me. Why? Well, the Court of the Gentiles was the outermost area of the temple and therefore considered the “least holy”—it was the area from where the Gentiles could walk and worship. On the surface, it doesn't really explain why Jesus had a problem with the marketplace there and why, at seeing it cluttered with commerce, he was consumed with "zeal for my house."


Unless He loves the Gentiles. You see, He wants them too. And all of this clutter is getting in the way. Jesus is making space for them—which, really, equates to Jesus making space for you and me. Jesus is saying, “I want to clear out the clutter here so that you can worship too!”

So, while there is the zealousness that says “even this area is holy, so stop profaning it!” which then translates to us being zealous about everything that we call holy: from the outermost part of our parish church to the outermost part of the human person (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit)-- the zeal really comes in that Jesus wants the Gentiles to worship in His Father's house. He wants us and He's willing to flip over tables for it.

(And it is for this episode that He will be crucified, by the way).

Praise from the Gentiles

Typically, when I think of the reaction that the crowd has about this, I focus on those who are angry. But, I’ve started to think about the faithful Gentiles who might have been there: the faithful Roman centurion, perhaps, or the Samaritan woman convert who would have stood at a distance. Perhaps they were waiting for this moment for a long time, waiting for the moment when they could finally worship God here and in spirit and in truth.

When I think about it that way, I realize that this is a scene worthy of praise. As the tables are being flipped over and Jesus is making space for them to worship, I hear from them a great sigh of relief—FINALLY!—finally we get to worship here!

Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ!

It is the beginning of a new life, a life marked by a new worship.

The Space of the Commandments

In the first reading, we hear the Ten Commandments—that great list of rules. Once again, in my past, this would not have been a cause to rejoice. Who rejoices over rules?

But the key to understanding this reading is the very first line: “I am the Lord your God who freed you from slavery.”

This was slavery from Pharaoh who would not allow the space to go and worship. So God intervenes—flips over Pharaoh’s tables, if you will—and clears out the space not only in the Promised Land, but in the hearts of all the people of Israel by way of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments clear out Pharoah’s laws and simultaneously demarcate where Pharaoh’s reign ends and where the kingdom of God begins. The Ten Commandments, therefore, are not simply a list of rules, but they are the means by which we are made free—and the standard by which we know that we are in that “space.” After all, God does not free Israel from slavery simply to re-enslave Israel!

This is reason to say “Thanks be to God!”

Quite a bit different from the modern understanding, right?

Let Christ Be Formed in Me

So, what can we glean from all of this? Well, simply: sometimes Jesus must flip over tables in our life in order to inaugurate our new life with God. He knows our human nature, he knows how we can get into a rut: how we can lukewarmly treat holy things with little care; how we can turn our souls into marketplaces; how we so easily get sucked back into old ways of slavery. He knows that sometimes the only way to see the change that He wants to see in us—yes, He wants us to change—the only way sometimes is for Him to do it himself.

The righteous Gentiles couldn’t flip over the tables no more than the Israelites could free themselves from Pharaoh’s grip. So what makes us think that some of our deep-rooted sins and vices are within our power to simply clear out and make new?

The fact is: we need Jesus to flip over some tables in our souls.

But that’s scary. It involves change. I kind of like business as usual. Maybe this sin that I have isn’t so bad. … Do I really want that zealous Jesus doing zealous things in me?

And how will he flip over the tables if I let Him in? I mean, it is easy for me to say what I want changed and what I think will make the difference…. But to give God the control… to give God the power… I mean, that means that He could do anything to accomplish whatever it is He wants to accomplish in me…. I don’t know if I want Him to be zealous in me…. I don't know if I want to let Christ be formed in me….

Freedom from Slavery, New Life in Christ

You know my story. I said on Ash Wednesday that I was going to do nothing for Lent this year. I was going to slow down and spend more time in prayer. God was calling me to it and I gave Him full control. The very next day, my brother calls and tells me that he has cancer. … Now, when you hear those words, priorities change. Perspectives change. Lives change. In an instant.  … Those words and the days that followed brought about the quickest Lenten change I’ve ever had in my life.

And when I heard this past week that my brother’s surgery went well and that they got all of the cancer out—well, the words “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ” and “Thanks be to God” never rang truer. It might as well have been Easter for where I was at.

Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it? Yes He will! Resurrection after Crucifixion? Definitely! An awesome life after the clearing out? You can bet your life on it!

A life of praise, a new life of worship—this only comes when Jesus clears out the space by flipping over the tables in our souls and re-establishing His reign of freedom through love and the commandments.

I really want this. I am praying for this now. Because it brings so much more change in my life than I can possibly do on my own. I can’t flip over tables. I’m not strong enough.

But Jesus! Jesus, you have the strength! Change us, Lord! Clear out the space in our lives so that we will praise you and worship you always!

No comments:

Post a Comment