A Sermon for the Third Sunday of a Lockdown Lent, 7th March 2021
“Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:17
The present times are ones of grey dullness. Hopes of early change are disappointed. The government will not make firm commitments on dates. People who have endured months of distancing and isolation wonder when it will all come to end. Easter celebrations are excluded. There is a hope that the summer will see the end of the restrictions which confine poorer people to their home areas whilst allowing travel by business people and sportsmen.
Feelings of disappointed expectations and hopes were ones with which Jesus and his disciples were familiar.
“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,” writes Saint John in Chapter 2 Verse 13. There is a deep sadness in John’s use of the word “Jews,” Jesus and the disciples would never have used it. They were Jews, born and brought up in the faith, they would never have referred to their community as though they were outsiders, as though the Jews were a group different from themselves. John is writing in the final decade of the First Century after the followers of Jesus had been put out of the synagogues in AD 85. The relationship has become acrimonious and those reading his words would have been mindful of a past that had been lost and a future that would not be possible. Following Jesus in the days when John was writing meant living in hope and enduring disappointment
Disappointment was an emotion which Jesus must frequently have experienced. Chapter 2 Verse 14 say that, “in the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.” Imagine being there. Imagine having journeyed up for this most sacred of occasion. Imagine the emotion with which the festival was filled. Imagine countless families gathering to celebrate the story of the people being freed from slavery in Egypt. Then imagine the sense of anticipation an excitement being destroyed by this encounter with unpleasant reality.
Unlike politicians who follow the path of populism and self-promotion, Jesus instead chose to respond with integrity. He chose a response that would have appalled the authorities and that would not have made him popular with many of the pilgrims, who were prepared to tolerate the business taking place in the temple. “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 money changers and overturned their tables,” says Verse 15. Jesus is unprepared to accept the hypocritical behaviour of those in authority. He is prepared to take direct action to express his feelings.
Integrity is not necessarily something people welcome. It would have been much easier for the disciples if Jesus had been more compliant, much easier if he had not been so outspoken. Recalling the events when he was writing his Gospel account sixty years later, there is almost a note of uncertainty in John’s words. He says, in Verse 17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” There is a hint in John’s words that the disciples were uncertain, that they were looking for some explanation of Jesus’ behaviour. Opposition to the leadership by Jesus was something that caused even his own friends to have doubts.
Jesus is confronted by those who resented the challenge he made to them. Powerful people do not like being questioned. Instead of accepting that Jesus had good reason to be critical of what was happening in the temple, they instead questioned his right to protest, asking him, in Verse 18, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
If we live through times when questions have been ignored, when the powerful have chosen to do as they wish, when there has been inconsistency in the keeping of rules, when poorer people face double standards in public life, then Jesus lived through similar circumstances.
Jesus tells his opponents that he will die and rise again within three days and they must have been mystified. Even the disciples must have wondered about what he was saying, wondered whether he had followed a wise course of action. In Verse 22, John says, “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.” The truth is not something immediately apparent, the truth is something that is only revealed in retrospect.
For a Christian in these times, hope always overcomes disappointment. Truth always overcomes hypocrisy.
A Sermon for the Third Sunday of a Lockdown Lent, 7th March 2021 — No Comments
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