The Third Sunday in Lent, 8 March 2015

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
I Corinthians 1:18-25
St. John 2:13-22

Background: Temple Culture
In the first century BCE, the so-called Temple of Herod was built. What stood before was the Temple of Zerubbabel, built after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.  A temple tax was used to fund the project, and it is said that priests built the actual temple.  The construction was done on the Temple Mount on a platform intended to be 1600 feet x 900 feet, sitting at a height of 9 stories. Under this platform were vaults that maintained the level nature of the platform. Apropos to the Gospel for today is the Court of the Gentiles – a market place actually. There visitors allowed into the precincts could purchase animals for sacrifice, food, currencies, and mementos of their visit. The currency changing was due to the fact that Roman currency was not allowed in Temple coffers and had to be traded for Tyrian money. During the Passover season, the number of pilgrims could number over 300,000 individuals. It was a teeming scene.

Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work-- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The styling of these words (and that is how the Hebrew Scriptures describe them) as “The Ten Commandments” is a bit artificial with the parsing of the text differing depending on the tradition that is presenting them. One Jewish Scholar has proposed this ordering for the Words:

1.     I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods beside me.
2.     You shall make you no carved likeness
3.     You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4.     Remember the Sabbath day to hallow it.
5.     Honor your father and your mother.
6.     You shall not murder
7.     You shall not commit adultery
8.     You shall not steal
9.     You shall not bear false witness against your fellow man.
10.  You shall not covenant.

These succinct words are just a beginning, for there is another level of commentary that interprets these Words and how they are to be accomplished in the business of daily life. Of interest are the patterns of kingship and royal presence in the formality of the words, such as “I am the Lord”, where Lord serves not as a name but as a sovereign presence to be acknowledged by those receiving this covenant of words. The place and context of these words is outlined in the fourth commandment: “the heavens above, the earth below, and the waters beneath the earth.”  Two specific place references are referred to in the Words – the land of Egypt from which God had freed the people, and the heavens, earth, and realms under the earth, the entirety of the cosmos that God not only created but still ruled. The relationship of this God with all the realms and peoples is a “jealous” one, with all the sense that that word provides. No other god will be tolerated. And, since the name meant power and suasion, God’s name was reserved only for the language of worship – not for oaths or curses – the name should be used deliberately and with full knowledge. The Sabbath is the day created for such usage.

The following commandments are all about relationship: father and mother to son and daughter, generation to generation, all living things to one another, honoring life, honesty, and possessions. This is a rich collection about how the human family once created, honors the creator in its faithfulness one to the other.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. What role do these words play in your life?
  2. What might you add to them?
  3. Which are ignored by our society?

Psalm 19 Caeli enarrant

The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.

In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

If the Ten Commandments (above) are “the Words”, then this psalm also is a meditation on the word, the very breath of God. For it is the Word that created the beauty of the heavens, its cycle of light and dark, sun and then moon and stars. Here it is not only God who speaks, but creation itself as well, “One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another.” This is the language of sight and beauty – no uttered words can express this language. What follows are some verses devoted to the sun, more than likely influenced by Egyptian verses about the sun god who makes the circuit of the heavens each day. All of this beauty merely serves as a context for the following meditation on another sense of the Word.

Now the psalm centers on the beauty of God’s word – God’s teaching, God’s Commandments. The psalmist wants us to understand the preciousness of this teaching, and he reaches for several metaphors: gold and honey, and pure wisdom itself. This is a wisdom that makes us aware of that which we might totally be unaware of, “Who can tell how often he offends? Cleanse me from my secret faults.” The closing verse then extends to our very own words, “Let the words of my mouth…” In this psalm both Creation and the Creator flood the cosmos with the breath that creates, communicates, and honors the other.

Breaking open Psalm 19:
  1. Does creation create wonder in you?
  2. Does it communicate the presence of God to you?
  3. What is the beauty of God’s word?

I Corinthians 1:18-25
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

“What is foolishness?” Paul asks us. He then avers that the cross itself might prove foolish to some. Who could believe that this instrument of execution could be “the power of God”? Paul plays with the paradoxes of which he is so enamored. Wisdom is destroyed and Discernment is obstructed. Where does this wisdom stand in the world? What is its value? Who are its promulgators? Paul argues that the wisdom of the world does not perceive or know God, and so God then chooses foolishness to be our guide and teacher.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. How do you think that the cross is foolishness?
  2. What do you think is truly the wisdom of our time?
  3. How can the two come together?

St. John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the moneychangers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he 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.

Here we see Jesus in full prophetic guise. A passage from Jeremiah may help: “Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? I have seen it for myself – oracle of the Lord.” Although the synoptic Gospels place this action close to the Passion Narrative, John does not. He sees it as both and immediate corrective, and a proleptic statement concerning his death and resurrection. In John, Jesus = the Temple. It is the zeal that Jesus has for the Temple that condemns him here. Psalm 69:10 can help, “Because zeal for your house has consumed me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.” This vision of Jesus as an active prophet doing symbolic acts introduces us to the notion that even more strange and difficult things will happen to him. Perhaps that is why Mark, Matthew and Luke place this event later in the ministry. In John, however, we are clued in right away. Jesus will not have a soft life. Jesus will not be comfortable. Jesus will challenge the religious in their convictions, and the disciples in their following. In this case the disciples in John do get it – they make the connection between the prophetic Jesus and the Risen One.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Can you think of other instances in which Jesus exhibits anger? What are they?
  2. How is Jesus being a prophet?
  3. What would you like to clean up in the Church?
 After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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