Lectionary Readings

Exodus 20; 1 – 3, 7 – 8, 12 – 17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians;1,22-25
John 2 ; 13 – 22

Though we are now  deep into Lent, the OT reading continues the Covenant theme.  The selected verses of Exodus 20 skirt round the bits about, “visiting the sins of parents onto their children”, and the details of what should or should not happen on the Sabbath.  Psalm 19 has two distinct sections and may well have been combined from different sources at an earlier time.  Read as a whole we might think that the Psalmist, having reflected on the majesty of Creation is so awed by what he sees that it prompts thoughts in him of penitence and supplication.  The Gospel reading is an account of the day when Jesus got angry.  John puts this incident at the beginning of his gospel whereas the other gospel writers place it in the final days of Jesus’ earthly life, during the Passover Festival.  Paul’s words in the Corinthian reading cuts us down to size.  The sight of a mangled body offends our normal human values.  We are called to a ‘re-think’ of our human wisdom in the light of what the world would consider to be the foolishness of God.

Exodus 20:

It is time for a bit of Law and Order.  For the Israelite people the initial euphoria after their release from slavery in Egypt has evaporated.  The going is tough and the destination distant.  They are beginning to give both Moses and God a hard time.  The commandments that they are given are not just prohibitions.  God isn’t  saying DON’T DO THIS and DON’T DO THAT, or I won’t be your God any more.  Rather they are given to the people as a road map that they can follow.  This will get them through the desert and into the Promised Land.  Once there, they will also serve as the building blocks for the nation that God wills to bring into being.  Curiously, the narrative begins not with the listing of the first and most important rule but with God reminding them of what they have experienced of his deliverance and salvation in the past.  The commandments are not just pieces of good advice from a powerful God but the required response of a grateful people.

The set verses to be read leave out verses 4 – 6.  While acknowledge that the mistakes of one generation may have long-standing consequences in the future, we may feel that it is fundamentally unfair that we should be held responsible for the sins of our parents and grandparents.  Also not included in the set reading is the reaction of the people after the commandments are given, “When all the people witnessed the thunder and the lightening they were afraid and stood at a distant”.  God’s presence with them was sobering and frightening.  This caused them to ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.  It seemed to them that direct contact with this Mighty Powerful God might prove fatal.  With the insights of the New Testament we can now say

“Your words to me are life and health,
They fortify my soul.
Enable, guide and teach my heart
To reach its perfect goal.”

John 2:

This was the day when ‘all heaven broke loose’.  The Temple in Jerusalem was the epi-centre of Jewish worship.  Three times a year those living within a certain distance were obligated to go to Jerusalem and to the Temple.  People who lived far away, have to this day, a saying at Passover time, “This year in ….. , next year in Jerusalem”.  Whether what Jesus said and did on this occasion, was on one of  a number of visits that he made to Jerusalem during his life, or during the final visit after his entry into the town on Palm Sunday, depends on which of the gospel accounts you are reading.  If, as in John’s gospel it was at the beginning of his ministry, it would serve to lay a marker down to indicate the challenge he would make to accepted religious practices of the day.  On the other hand if it occurred on his final visit then the action he took would have mirrored all that he had sought to show through his teaching and actions. Verses from the hymn below seem to me to sum up the thoughts of Jesus on this day:

“O Thou not made with hands,
Not throned above the skies,
Nor walled with shining walls,
Nor framed with stones of price,
More bright than gold or gem,
God’s own Jerusalem.
Thou are where’er the proud
In humbleness melts down;
Where self itself yields up;
Where martyrs win their crown;
Where faithful souls possess
Themselves in perfect peace

(Francis Turner Palgrave, 1824 – 97)

It was on this day that religion got in the way.

“An outsider would have thought
That it was a pet shop’s fire sale.
And the outsider, in some ways
Wouldn’t have been far wrong.
Only, it wasn’t household pets,
It was pigeons that were being purchased
And it wasn’t a fire sale,
it was a ‘rip-off’ in a holy temple.
Bartered birds for sacrifice,
And the price was something that only the rich could afford.
No discounts for students, pensioners or the disabled.
Then he’
The holiest man on earth
went through the bizarre bazaar
Like a bull in a china shop.
So the doves got liberated
and the pigeon sellers got angry
And the police went crazy
And the poor people clapped like mad.
Because he was making a sign
That God was for everybody.
Not just for those who could afford him.
He turned the tables over that day …
The day that religion got in the way.

( Adapted from a piece inStages on the Way”. Iona books 1998)

There is a notice circulating that says,  “It is Church Cleaning Week and they are asking for volunteers”.  Its going to be the biggest clean-up in years.  But before you rush to volunteer and grab your brush, cloth and bucket you might give a thought to this.

It may be that our Lord will be in this working party too.  He will roll up his sleeves and do his bit.  Just for a moment, more human than divine.  Will he find it fairly tidy or an absolute disgrace?

Oh!, he won’t find us selling things like pigeons and the rest.  Fair Trade is our game and we only sell the best.  But might he find us pedalling ill will and discontent and selling truths so different from the Truth he spoke?

Oh!, he won’t find us running ‘changing-booths’.  A Free Will Offering is what we make.  But will he find us selling short, His openness and grace.  His unconditional love, that offers all a place.

Oh!, he won’t find us operating like thieves in a den for if you measure our righteousness we’d score ten out of ten.  But might he find our holiness shallower than it seems, with cant and hypocrisy as the underlying theme?

Be careful then if you are going to volunteer.  For Christ may slip in too and find whats lain hidden for years.  That might mean that the very temple that we thought was just fine, needed a cleaning that’s divine.

( Adapted from , “With an Open Eye” by Tom Gordon, Iona Community)

John R.


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