Third Sunday of Lent (Year B) 7 March 2021 10 a.m. Said Eucharist Homily Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church, Ashland, Oregon
The Rev. Dr. Anthony Hutchinson, homilist
Exodus 20:1 – 17; Psalm 19:7 – end; 1 Corinthians 1:18 – 25; John 2:13 – 22
God, Take away our hearts of stone, and give us hearts of flesh. Amen.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes crazy and starts turning over tables. He causes this disturbance in the Temple, the center of religious and public life of his nation. His act has prophetic overtones. The prophets had always criticized the formalism of Temple ritual and its hypocrisy if pursued absent social justice. They had used such phrases as “I don’t want your sacrifices! All the animals on the hillsides are mine! If I were hungry, do you think I’d need your gift? Besides, your hands are full of blood!” The prophets had underscored their message with startling acts like marrying a prostitute or walking around naked for a year. Here, Jesus turns tables over, uses a small whip to drive the Temple’s duly authorized concessionaries, and yells something about his Father’s House. The act says the whole system of oppression in his homeland is corrupt and wrong, deeply offensive to God. The Temple and its authorities are part and parcel of the sweetheart deal with the Romans, and the system of squeezing the poor for their land and living to profit the Romans and the local elite Quislings supporting them. In fact, the Temple is the center of the problem.
The disturbance in the Temple courts was almost certainly an act of the historical Jesus, and was probably the immediate cause of his arrest and death, as pictured in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John’s Gospel moves it to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in order to make room for the story of the raising of Lazarus to be the reason for Jesus’ death. But in so doing, John also suggests something that is obvious to us as we read the Gospels. From the point of view of those around him, Jesus was always a little crazy.
John isn’t the only Gospel writer to suggest this. In Mark 3, we read the story of what happened when Jesus first returned to Nazareth after he began his ministry: his family sends out big guys to forcibly restrain him and carry him back home, because they and others think that Jesus “has gone out of his mind.”
The fact is this: from the point of view of moderate, sensible morality and social norms, Jesus was crazy. He said crazy things, and did crazy stuff.
What most people call wretched he calls blessed. “Blessed are the poverty-stricken!” “Happy are those who are crushed with grief!” “Blessed are those who are starving and thirsting to death.” Crazy.
“Give up your life if you want to save it.” Say what?
“Do not repay people in kind for bad things or abuse. Love them. Pray for them. Repay their bad with good.” Really?
“Leaders should be servants, at the beck and call of others.” Not normal.
“If you really want to see God’s Reign, embrace powerlessness. Be like a child.”
“The first will be last and the last first.”
As he is being killed, he prays for those abusing him. “Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” That’s just crazy.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once preached it this way:
“Jesus was, and is, crazy! And those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way, are called and summoned and challenged to be just as crazy as Jesus. …We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God -- like Jesus. Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way!”
Paul in today’s epistle says it this way: “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” (1 Cor 1:18). This is what Christian saintliness is all about. Being a fool for Christ. Being crazy like Christ.
As Bishop Curry says,
“Now it may not be obvious at first, but we actually have a day to remember crazy Christians. I think we call it All Saints’ Day. It’s not called “All the Same Day,” it’s All Saints’ Day, because, though they were fallible and mortal, and sinners like the rest of us, when push came to shove the people we honor as saints marched to the beat of a different drummer… [Our saints calendar might as well be called] The Chronicles of Crazy Christians.”
Jesus calls us to a particular kind of crazy, being a special kind of fool.
Some see the scene of Jesus getting angry and whipping the currency changers and understand it as a call to “righteous” anger, and the “appropriate” use of violence. But that misses the whole point of the scene: Jesus knows that power lies with the moneyed interests here. The Temple police will restore order through their own use of force, and a few minutes later they’ll be back at their business. Jesus knows that this prophetic act is probably going to get him killed. It is not about losing his cool, being overcome by anger, and bullying others through force. The moneyed people are the bullies here, not Jesus. And I doubt Jesus let himself be overcome by rage, as if he needed some anger management class, as if this act were some kind of pastoral abuse. Again, this was a calculated act of disobedience, of non-cooperation, to make a point. It was not a serious effort to overturn the system through force. It was an effort to make people see the violence and cruelty at the heart of the system of power, and in so doing help bring closer the Reign of God. To be sure, Jesus got angry at times. But his was not an anger management problem. It is a measure of his passion in all of life.
Jesus wants the system of corruption and oppression to end. He witnesses as a prophet in a memorable act, one that points to the violence buried in all the niceties of the religious system. He does it despite the obvious cost, the Romans occupiers labeling him as a political opponent, and the cross they are preparing for him.
Jesus was crazy because he was in love with God. Jesus was crazy because he loved the suffering ones he saw about him. People like Pilate and Herod and Annas thought he was a fool, an inconvenient crazy man.
Look at the world around us. Oppression of the poor. The rejection of the alien and stranger. Homelessness. The nihilism of “alternate facts” and “all news is fake.” Widespread gun violence. The degradation of the natural environment of our beautiful world—caused by our incessant drive for comfort and wealth. The risk that in our generation our atmosphere will be ruined irreparably. War. Child and spouse abuse, subjugation of women and minorities. Harshness, bullying, unfaithfulness, violence and unfairness. If we, seeing such things, do not go crazy, I wonder whether we belong to Jesus at all. I wonder where our love and true joy is.
Jesus calls us to be his fools. He invites us to love God and our neighbor so much that we go crazy too. That’s what he means when he asks us to pick up our crosses and follow him. This is an invitation to joyful craziness, not sorrowful and grudging acceptance of pain. Love justice, do compassion, and walk humbly with God.
Jesus wants us to be crazy, like him, like his saints.
Let’s not disappoint him.
In the name of Christ, Amen.