Like some number of you, I was raised within a Christian and societal era that accepted the 10 commandments as a code of conduct for raising children into morally fit adults, and to no small extent judging those who seemed to violate it. God had terrible power, and this passage did nothing to make the Creator seem approachable.
In my later readings of Exodus, those tablets – given to Moses in a powerful encounter with God – seemed to me a survival map; a way to assure that these lost, disgruntled former slaves could make their way out of the desert without killing one another.
As I became more familiar with the New Testament, I thought less about the decalogue because it seemed that for Christians the faith and love in action to which Jesus called us made all but those 2 love commands of diminished importance to me.
But where now is the one who is wise? Has God not truly made foolish the wisdom of the world? Are we not all at risk of perishing?
The chaos taking over our nation in the past 2 years shocks me into hearing this passage with new appreciation for how revolutionary this blueprint is to a viable social order.
Reading this passage from Exodus aloud, I am taken aback at the opening line; the realization of how God, who brought this people out of slavery, wants to be known to by that act, for them never again to be enslaved. Israel is to belong to God, and to reflect in every facet of life what God’s liberation and providence has taught them.
Walter Brueggemann, scholar, preacher, and prophet wrote “it is precisely the worship of the God of the exodus that provides the elemental insistence and passionate imagination to reshape human relations in healing, liberating ways.
Brueggemann summarized Karl Marx’s reflections on the Covenant: “The way of our attending to God determines our ways of attending to neighbor and vice versa.”
Mandating that an entire community, from leader to slaves – including the children and animals – are to have an entire day free each week?
How foreign that sounds to our ears, where an growing majority of low and mid- wage workers toggle multiple jobs trying to make ends meet, and families run treadmills of activities in part to insure a competitive advantage for their children’s education since our government would rather fund war.
Having the capacity and TIME to reflect is a distinctively humanizing thing, and a facet of freedom. This liberating God desires that people know their full humanity, and for them to treat others as fully human as well.
The God of Moses desires that people give, not take life. Israelites are to take what is necessary to stay alive and not more, so that others can live. They are not to steal the dignity, the name, or the essentials of other people. Not to enslave themselves to the worship of idols, or work, greed or envy. These aren’t the commandments as repackaged by parents and pastors to keep young children in line; This is the Holy One, bringing people into relationship; and creating the framework for sustainable community.
Reading deeper we can see that the decalogue stands in critique of every kind of exploitive social relation, public and interpersonal, in whatever kind of economic or political construct.
Maybe it should be in view of our courthouses and statehouses – with proper rabbinical instruction of course!
Now to our gospel. In recent weeks have been from Matthew and Mark; today we heard John in which we’ll continue until Passion/Palm Sunday.
I’ll note a few of the features distinctive to John as It’s a bit of a key change, and we’ll want to be in attuned.
You’ll recall that John begins this gospel with “In the Beginning.” That one line announces a story of formative shared experience, an event that shaped the lives and beliefs of the current generation of witnesses. Now they are handing it down as lived truth: “In the beginning was the Word, with God, of God.”
John does not need to detail the events of Jesus’ life in like manner of the synoptic Gospels, because that historical record is available to his readers. Rather the author declares: “The word was made flesh and lived among us, and we saw his glory.”
The community around John shares its reflections in rich symbols imbued with the living, freeing, presence of God. The author invokes many senses: light, water, sound, touch, all vibrating with that presence. At his baptism Jesus was claimed by the voice of God, echoed in his introduction by John the baptizer to those at the river.
Within the first paragraphs of this second chapter of John, Jesus has amazed the wedding gathering at Cana by boldly repurposing the purification jars with an abundance of good wine. As in, you won’t be needing these anymore? In me you have immediate access to God and I declare you clean, worthy. Jesus “let his glory be seen” in this way, John writes.
After his few days rest Today we follow Jesus as he enters the crowds at the Temple before Passover. This is the height of temple activity, with people streaming in from all over who need to exchange their currency, make their purchases and hold the prescribed ritual sacrifices to be in right relation to God.
Whip in hand he drives home what it means to live in the new creation: “Stop! No more! Clear away this detritus and distraction; The house of God should be a place of prayer in truth, not a priesthood of power, commerce and oppression.”
Ending sacrificial atonement and purification meant that no one was unclean! All are welcome! Godself in Jesus shares our humanity, our flesh This is indeed a new creation.
No longer will our encounter of God take place in the Temple but in Jesus, in our shared humanity, as he announces the love and forgiveness of God. We. Are. Free.
But Jesus’ proclamation threatens the power of the temple priesthood and the cash flow from the currency exchanges and sales of livestock and doves. Looking back, the community of John acknowledges that this event helped lead to the crucifixion of Jesus and that he faced it squarely, trusting through to God.
In announcing the Day of the Lord by cleansing the temple (as was predicted by Zechariah) Jesus calls us to complete faith and trust in God alone. This passage echoes through time, though Martin Luther wielded a hammer, martyrs like Oscar Romero the pulpit, and so many others what tools they have been given, including the powers of the place they call home, and the power of their own suffering.
a rapidly growing body of Martyrs remind us that No religious, political, economic or educational system has the right or the power to steal from God’s own creation – human or environmental – the life, health, dignity and freedom that is their right.
The world did not know God through wisdom, and so many do not know God now.
For those who are called, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Yes, the crucifix is a stumbling block, a foolishness to the world view of many we know. But for those who believe, we are still called to share our faith in truth and witness, that others may have an opportunity to hear and to choose whether to believe.
Jim Finley, a wounded young man who studied and lived with Thomas Merton for 5 years shares “ What I got from Merton was that the grace of God utterly and wholly permeates our lives, just as they are in the present moment. All our failures and weaknesses are absolutely irrelevant in the face of such all-pervading grace.” For Finley, this realization was his healing and became his mission.
What is our message to others of the love of God and how do we attempt to share it?
Would our lives, our families, and our communities be changed if we could more clearly embrace this message? Could we shake off our fatigue and despair to engage more persistently, love more boldly and challenge the dominant narrative if we could surrender to God’s fidelity?
Young people are understandably frighted at this time. Yes, we need to support them, but we also have a right to know what we believe, where we find hope. Do we or do we not believe in the power of the cross, that vindication of selfless love that conquers death by the power of God’s ever creative, embracing love?
How do we witness to our children the heart and experience of our faith as they navigate this world?
Lent gives us this time in which to find time for reflection and maybe further immerse ourselves in the disruptive, messy, and often frustrating work that creating relationships, sustainable communities and nations requires. I pray you deep and contagious peace in these days.
Let us Pray:
for all who are catechumens at this time. Especially for those who embrace Christianity in places where to do so is dangerous. May they rejoice in their Baptism and find courage in their faith and their community of believers, let us pray.
For all who lead communities of faith, that they may lift up the truth and not fall sway to pleasing those of political and monetary power. Let us pray.
For all who suffer the murder of poverty, racism, and powerlessness by 1000 daily blows. That they may find justice and sustenance, and hope for their future, with our help. let us pray.
For all who hold political, corporate, and financial power in our nation. May they withstand the pressure of their peers, and see their way to act for a just distribution of power, jobs, and money so that the residents in our land might know security. Let us pray.