A Lenten Epiphany

As you are probably aware, the season of Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to Easter Day and the Feast of the Resurrection.  It is a season of penitence and fasting, in which we are invited to bring to mind our sinfulness, repent of our wrong-headedness and stiff-necks, and seek God’s forgiveness.  Because Easter is a movable feast, falling on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Lent begins at different times each year.  This means that the number of Sundays after the Epiphany can vary.  What is unexpected, however, is when smack-dab in the middle of Lent, we get what feels like a Sunday in Epiphanytide.

Such is the case this Sunday with the foreshadowing that John uses in the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  The lessons appointed for the Sundays after the Epiphany tell the of the ongoing revelation of God to humanity through Jesus Christ.  We hear of the Magi, who recognize Jesus as the King of the Jews thanks to the appearance of a star in the heavens.  In the Baptism story, Jesus is revealed to be God’s beloved Son.  Nathaniel recognizes Jesus as the King of Israel.  The season always concludes with the Transfiguration of Christ, wherein Peter, James, and John are made privy to Jesus’ full revelation as the Christ of God.

In Sunday’s lesson, then, the Third Sunday in Lent becomes another opportunity for who Jesus really is to be revealed to the disciples.  After the Jewish leaders demand some credentials after his turning the Temple system on its ear, Jesus tells them what the sign will be.  “Tear down this temple, and I will build it back in three days.”  John concludes the story by noting that “after [Jesus] was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

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Note the disciples (left) looking like “This is not going to end well.”

It is a slow play, to be sure, two, more likely even three years, in the making.  Over the course of his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is continually pulling back the curtain, slowly, as his disciples and crowds are able, unveiling more and more fully who he really is and what he came to do.  It is helpful, I think, here in the season of Lent, to take a moment to reflect on what this time of preparation reveals to us about Jesus.  From the Ash Wednesday invitation to a holy Lent all the way through Holy Saturday’s holy waiting, the lead-up to Jesus’ Passion and death are constantly unveiling God’s grace and mercy to us.

Early Zeal

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As is often noted, there are two versions of story of Jesus clearing the Temple.  The one that is most often cited comes from each of the three synoptic Gospels, in which Jesus, either immediately after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or shortly there after, drives out the money changers in preparation for a week of ongoing debate with the Pharisees and Scribes that will ultimately end in his arrest, torture, and death.  Less often studied, albeit read every three years on Lent 3B, is the version from John’s Gospel.  In John’s account, this story takes place on the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry.  It follows on the heels of Jesus calling his first disciples and performing his first sign by turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

While the synoptics point to the prophecy of Isaiah as Jesus’ motivation – “Why have you turned my Father’s house into a den of robbers?” – John looks instead to the Psalms.  Psalm 69.9, to be more specific.  As Jesus’ newly minted disciples look on in what can only be a combination of fear, horror, and exhilaration, Psalm 69 is recalled to them, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.”  Clearly Jesus is consumed.  Clearly Jesus is zealous for the Lord’s house.  But why so much energy?  And why so early?

It would seem that the Gospel writers were avid proof texters.  Often, in all four of the Gospels, we hear references to a passage or two, even the merging of two or more passages, of the Old Testament, used to satisfy some piece of the larger story.  What is also true, however, is that they knew that story much better than we do.  They had been hearing the accounts of the Hebrew Bible since their childhoods.  They had sung the Psalms again and again from their youth.  It seems reasonable, then, to assume that when a passage of scripture is referenced, they assume the reader/hearer knows the fuller story.  When John has the disciples recall Psalm 69.9, it isn’t just about the zeal that Jesus has for his Father’s house, but it is the fullness of the story of the Psalmist.

In this case, since it comes so early in Jesus’ ministry, the reference to Psalm 69 and the zeal of Jesus serves to foreshadow what is to come.  As we work through the season of Lent, marching ever closer to Holy Week and Jesus’ Passion, the words of Psalm 69 ring with meaning.

V. 3 “I am weary with crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

V. 4b “many are those who would destry me,
my enemies who falsely accuse me.”

V. 15 “Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.”

V. 29 “I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.”

V. 33 “The Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.”

A growing list

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There is a well worn trope, whenever the 10 Commandments come around, for the preacher to stand before her/his congregation and say, “I must confess that I have violated one of the ten commandments.”  Their congregation gets itchy, assuming, of course, that it is the adultery or stealing bit, but then everybody gets a laugh when the preachers says, “I’m not great at keeping the Sabbath.”  Every time the 10 Commandments comes around, I think of the sermons I have heard start in just that way, and I chuckle while I roll my eyes.

This year, as I read the Commandments that God gave to Moses, the basic tenants of living in the Kingdom of God, I realized that I think my list of 10 Commandment failures is growing.  The Sabbath is nigh on impossible in 21st century America, but I am probably guilty of my fair share of coveting as well.  If Jesus is right, and holding anger against a brother or sister is equivalent to murder, well, I’ve probably done that too.  This might be the most popular sin in the social media culture in which we live.  Above all else, however, I know that my chief sin is the sin of idolatry.  In that way, I guess I’m more Pauline than I’ve ever realized as the entire Letter to the Romans deals with the human proclivity toward idolatry.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about Romans, but rather a realization that there are so many things in this world that would be a god in my life.  My to-do list is high on that list.  My desire to make things right.  My wish that others would live by the same set of rules that I try to live by (I’m looking at you people who park in the fire lane at the grocery store and clog up the flow of traffic in an already to small parking lot).  Wanting to be liked, to do my job well.  Excellence.  Me.

It being Lent, when 10 Commandments week rolls around, it seems like a good opportunity to do this sort of self-examination, so long as repentance follows shortly thereafter.  That’ll be my prayer this week.  For you as well as myself.  That the 10 Commandments might give us a chance to reflect on the ways in which we fall short of God’s dream, to seek forgiveness, and to move forward in a new way, eschewing idolatry and covetousness and seeking Sabbath and God’s refreshment.

On Keeping the 10 Commandments

This isn’t a post about whether or not the 10 Commandments should be displayed in state or federal courthouses.

This isn’t a post about whether or not Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, is off his rocker.

This isn’t a post about whether or not this bumper sticker tencsticker is a poorly digitized violation of the second commandment.

This is a [perhaps too analytical] post about whether or not, in light of Sunday’s Old Testament lesson, the disciples of Jesus should keep the 10 Commandments.  Spoiler Alert, the answer is yes.  During Lent, we’ve taken on the practice of starting our Sunday liturgy with the Penitential Order Rite I (BCP, 319).  We aren’t reading the Decalogue, as we have in years past, but we do hear the Summary of the Law every week.

“Here what our Lord Jesus Christ saith:  Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  and the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 22:37-40)

According to the Outline of the Faith: The Catechism, the 10 Commandments teach us two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors (BCP, 847).  According to Jesus, our main task as disciples is to love God and love neighbor.  By the transitive property, it seems then that keeping the 10 Commandments enables us to follow Jesus’ Commandment to love.  Turning again to the catechism, we see the inverse of my logic on page 848, “Since we do not fully obey [the 10 Commandments], we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.”

Failing to keep the 10 commandments is a failure to love God, love our neighbor, and at least in the case of Commandment 4, it is a failure to love ourselves.  A failure to love is a failure of discipleship, ergo, Christians should keep the 10 Commandments.