Would We Extinguish Our Own Fire?

Third Sunday of Lent

In this year’s run-up to the governor’s office in Kansas, six declared candidates are young men, aged 16 and 17, not even old enough to vote. One newspaper reporter wrote: First it “was a funny concept for a while, and then it became absurd, and then a national tragedy happened, and it became not funny but actually an emotion approaching tender, even aching.”[1] Three of the candidates are seeking the Republican nomination, one apiece for the Democrat, Libertarian, and Green party nominations. Whenever they appear for interviews, individually or together, most people just want to talk about how young they are. Similar to Vermont, Kansas has no age requirement for governor. One state set the minimum at 21, the rest at 25 or 30. Six states require they be 18. In Virginia ours have to be 30. People who think it’s a bad thing can blame their parents and social studies teachers and their own consumption of social media.

But blame is a negative word. What is happening is that some young people who have for generations been told it was okay to be seen but not heard have decided they want to be heard now, too. I find their courage and passion refreshing. Perhaps this is what motivated students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland FL to take to the streets and the state capitol in Tallahassee and the White House and social media to voice their grief and rage and passion to start a conversation, and find some way to prevent the next school shooting tragedy. And it may not help that some grown-ups who have run and won elected office across many states and across the country seem so directionless and without genuine passion or founded principles. Maybe counting on inexperienced teenagers to get things done that experienced grown-ups seem powerless to accomplish is unwise. But if nothing else, we are forced to reexamine who we claim to be as Americans, how far we have strayed from our own ideals, and what seriously needs to change to get us back on track.

Speaking of the ideal, the text we read from the book of Exodus is a familiar list of commandments, the heart and foundation of the Law of Moses. We know there were 10 original commandments, their correct numbering determined by the interpretation of the proper church authorities. But since Moses’ time, the list has expanded to oversee most every aspect of Israel’s life, from what was permissible to serve at the dinner table, to how worship in the temple was to be properly conducted. Today there are some 613 commandments considered sacred tradition to impart from one generation to the next. Now many of these commandments can no longer be observed since about the year 70 CE with the destruction of the Second Temple. According to one standard opinion, only 271 of these laws can still be observed today, while 26 apply only in the land of Israel. Still they are part of Jewish heritage, and their religious significance gives them value.[2]

Today’s gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple comes from John, who places the event after Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, his temptation in the desert, and his first sign at the wedding at Cana. In this account Jesus is clearly at the start of his public ministry—young-ish, untested, very much an unknown. In contrast, the other gospels place this event just before Jesus’ passion and death, directly connecting it with his enemies’ plot to have him arrested and put to death.

It was exactly his passion and rage and zeal that attracted his disciples’ attention. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace,” he said as he drove out the vendors, spilling the coins of the money changers, overturning their tables, scattering the sheep and oxen and doves, disrupting the peace. His opponents who were most upset and most vocal may have gotten comfortable with the status quo. The system in use governing the offering of temple sacrifices allowed out-of-towners to purchase their choice of animal offering at the temple, a welcome convenience. And with their strict rules about the use of proper coins, money changers provided a necessary and vital service. But with time came abuses to the system, unjust commercial practices, bribes and kickbacks, preferential treatment, the kinds of behavior that pop up wherever profit and influence mix. And those with much to lose were not amused, while some who were often easy victims were perhaps quietly and secretly cheering him on.

The gospel account quickly turns to a prediction of his passion. “’Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. And when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.”[3]

But lest we overlook the reason for Jesus’ outburst, St. Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”[4] In the judgment and commercial experience of well-established no-nonsense business people involved in the expediting of temple sacrifices, Jesus’ behavior was foolish and reckless and childish. Was he just railing against temple sacrifices, or was he against all religious practice altogether? Was he against the current religious leadership, or was he against all order and civility entirely? Was he an attention-grabbing ego-maniac with anti-establishment tendencies, or just another case of untreated mental illness? What his opponents readily interpreted as malice and ill-will was perhaps a stinging rebuke of what their worship of God had turned into. And Jesus was forcing them to reexamine their ways, and return to what God intended from the start.

As we enter this third week of Lent, the church invites us to dig deeper into how we live our faith, not just because it’s Lent and we’re taken on a few extra practices. We need to examine what it means to live our Christian faith all year long. Are we missing the point of Lent altogether if we can just as easily return to what we’ve always done come Easter, back to gossiping and holding grudges, back to careless swearing and casual dishonesty, back to wallowing in our bad habits and indulging our excesses? It would seem foolish to keep fighting if we actually want to just give up anyway. Why do we even keep trying? Well, we stop trying only when we have finally attained the perfection Jesus wants us to achieve, or we finally admit we’re just old and tired and weak, and we could care less whether or not we spend eternity with God.

The six young men running for governor in Kansas give America hope. They’re not done fighting for their own future and the future of an America they may never see fulfilled. How would Christianity survive if Christians like ourselves lose our passion and enthusiasm for the gospel way of life, and carelessly extinguish our own fire?

Rolo B Castillo © 2018

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/six-teenagers-are-running-for-governor-in-kansas-and-suddenly-this-doesnt-seem-so-preposterous/2018/03/02/e70495de-11b8-11e8-9570-29c9830535e5_story.html?utm_term=.967edfcaada6

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/613_commandments

[3] John 2: 19-22

[4] 1 Corinthians 1: 25

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