Jesus Sets a Boundary

4 March 2018 - Third Sunday in Lent

In each of the readings for today –– Jesus’ purging the Temple of self-serving commerce, the giving of the Law, and the foolishness of our faith proclamation –– we are invited more deeply into the Lenten disciplines: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The disciplines are meant to remind us at visceral levels what it means to live counter to the values of a world that venerates wealth, power, success, and taking care of oneself.

What does it mean to turn over the tables of those things we worship in favor of trusting in the Lord? How is it possible to embrace foolishness when everything in our society urges us to be savvy? How can we re-define the terms of our lives? These are Lenten questions.

John 2:13-22

All four gospels recount Jesus' confrontation with the moneychangers in the temple. However, John's account is distinct from the Synoptics in several important ways. First, John places this encounter near the beginning of Jesus' ministry, as the start of continual antagonism between Jesus and the [religious] leaders, rather than at the very end of his life, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as in the Synoptics.

Mark and Luke reflect the antagonism of the [Temple] leaders, but use this incident as their reason for wanting Jesus killed. (See Matthew 21:12–13, Mark 11:15–19, and Luke 19:45–48 for the parallel accounts.) Second, the synoptic parallels contain no references to sheep and cattle or to Jesus' violent act of using a whip to drive out the moneychangers. Third, the Synoptics have him citing scripture. . .

Finally, the synoptic parallels lack the reference to Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me,” or his discussion of tearing down the temple and rebuilding it in three days, which his disciples came to understand as a reference to his death and resurrection. . .

Some of the differences from the Synoptics may be minor, but the overall effect is to emphasize John's concern for the demonstration of Jesus' nature, his performance of signs, and his connection to other scriptural teachings. –– Jonathan D. Lawrence

Exodus 20:1-17

In previous weeks there have been readings on the covenants with Noah and Abraham. This week's reading from Exodus contains the Ten Commandments, in one sense the core of the covenant with Moses given at Mount Sinai.

. . . Most of these regulations are pronounced succinctly with little explanation or detail. Unlike some of the biblical legislation that goes into extensive detail and is case-specific, these laws are presented as absolute principles, leaving the exact implementation to later interpreters and readers. Except for the commands to honor parents and keep the Sabbath, which offer specific justifications for the rule, the rest of the commandments give no background.

It should be noted that the justification for the Sabbath law in Exodus is that God rested on the Sabbath, while Deuteronomy 5:15 reminds the Israelites that they were once slaves so now that they are in power they should give their slaves the kind of rest they themselves never had. Some readers have tried to divide the commandments into two groups, outlining obligations to God and to humanity. While this is convenient shorthand, its symmetry can depend on the numbering of the commandments, which varies by religious community. –– Jonathan D. Lawrence

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Paul contrasts the message and power of the cross with the way it is perceived by the rest of the world. . . What the world thinks is wise is foolish and what is considered foolish becomes wise and important. Unlike the psalmist who said that God's law makes “wise the simple,” Paul sees wisdom not in the law, but in God's “foolishness” in crucifying Christ, as he says, “For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.” –– Jonathan D. Lawrence

Jonathan D. Lawrence, an American Baptist Church ordained minister, teaches Religious Studies and Theology at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.

Homily Service 39, no. 4 (2006): 33-43.

David Turnbloom