3rd Sunday in Lent

March 26, 2000
See Also: 

Lenten Candle Liturgy
John Cobb on redemption
Biblical Preaching on the Death of Jesus (Cobb)

Reading 1: 
Exodus 20:1-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 19
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Reading 4: 
John 2:13-22
By Tari Lennon

We are now midway through our Lenten journey. The overall direction the Lectionary seems to be taking is toward acquainting the believer with the necessity of taking risks--and doing something novel--at the very point that our instincts are urging us to play it safe and do nothing to rock the boat.

Stories and passages such as this remind us of why our spiritual ancestors saw such great similarities between Moses and Jesus. Assailed by their own and afflicted with the obtuseness of the world, they are continually bumping up against situations that challenge their mettle and drain their energy.

Like all good slaves and battered persons, the Israelites would prefer to continue to play the victim rather than challenge their imaginations to see new vistas. They would rather grouse and gripe at Moses than experiment with ways to celebrate their new life. I think it no accident that our writer(s) has Moses going ahead and above the people in order to convey to the people God's continuing availability and presence to them. Nor is it a surprise to have Moses use the staff-the very same staff that was used to effect their release from bondage-to draw water for the thirsty and defeat the new would-be oppressors.

New behaviors do not have to break with or deny the importance of past experience. But some times, in our spiritual quest, when life has our nose pressed up against the window pane of adversity, something, anything that breaks the cycle of what's going on, must be tried, regardless our discomfort. What an important word for Lent that is.

Something quite similar seems to be going on in this story, not in terms of the particulars, but in terms of the behaviors of the two leaders. Jesus goes up to Jerusalem; is totally dismayed and distressed by what he sees going on with his people against God in God's very house; he fashions his own staff, albeit one made of cords and therefore whip-like; and he promises to raise the temple up, that is, his body, no matter what destructive actions are mounted against him.

There is absolutely nothing sweet or sentimental in this passage either relative to Jesus or the religious life. Nor is there any way to talk about Jesus' behavior that modifies or explains away that one emotion the church continues to have such difficulty with: ANGER. We have made such a virtue of being nice in general and in the church in particular that it is a wonder that this story and last week's re: Jesus' confrontation with Peter are still in the canon-how did they escape the pseudopigrapher's stylus.

One conclusion could be that this behavior is so similar to what we have in the Moses tradition(s) that to have edited it out would have done serious damage to the need to keep 2. the past and the present connected in Jesus. Then too, the behavior is critical to an understanding of the Johannine Jesus and that community's belief that he was God's agent of change, and totally willing to upset the tables of conventionality, even at the risk of offending the power structure of the day.

In this election year, these are important values for people of faith to revisit and consider.... and by the way, this was not a symbolic act on Jesus' part-not even a little bit.

I Corinthians
Women's Studies and the contemporary rediscovery of Wisdom have given new significance and meaning to the wisdom passages in the Pauline corpus.

To think of Wisdom as Sophia, a feminine attribute, and an attribute of God, is to experience this passage somewhat differently from its traditional exegesis. Of course, we understand that our spiritual/religious ancestors would have considered the feminine principle weaker than the male principle but of having importances other than and different from those of power.

Even there, however, to consider that Paul is saying that that which we consider weak is stronger than our strength (power) is impressive. Furthermore, for Paul to be insisting that it is that very weakness which connects us to God and God to us, the very place from which salvific possibilities emerge, is remarkable. This is a true spiritual paradox: God's weakness is God's strength. Where God is most vulnerable, most available, most unprotected is exactly the place where God is strongest.

What a wonderful Lenten exercise could be fashioned here, encouraging people to identify their weaknesses and vulnerabilities in order to discover and discern their true strength, and their immediate connection with God.

Anyone who has ever heard Haydn's Creation owes a debt of gratitude to this psalmist. Haydn's soaring music and sonorous choruses are appropriate dwelling places for the majestic language of this Psalm. Where possible, it could be a wonderful addition to Sunday worship to sing, or have sung, some pieces or parts from the Creation.

The Psalm could be particularly helpful for the preacher by helping him or her to pull all the lections together by setting them in the context of creation itself. In the midst of all the challenges directed at Moses; in the face of all the threats directed against Jesus; as Paul struggles to communicate his new-found insight into the nature of God, it is still the case that "the decrees of God are sure, making wise the simple," recalling us to the basic wonders of creation itself, creation from which all life comes and to which all will return.

Sometimes on the spiritual journey the most novel and radical thing we can do is to take a time out and behold what the heavens are telling us.

The Rev. Dr. Tari Lennon is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds degrees in theology, ministry and psychology. She retired from parish ministry after 43 years and now convenes Open Gatherings which draws people together from all faiths and nonfaiths to explore topics of spirituality, relationships, and personal ethics.