ACCORDING TO JOHN, Jesus, like most observant Jews, would have been a more or less regular visitor to [Jerusalem] and also the Temple. Jesus had taught there, healed there too, and more than once. He was familiar with the place and its particulars. …
Money-changing was perfectly legal, of course – and a real service, it could be argued, for those who traveled long distances to worship. But penury had overtaken prayer. Business had swallowed the sacred.
And on that Monday, Jesus tore up the place. He cleaned, as it were, God’s house. …
During each of [the reformers’ – Hezekiah and Josiah’s] reigns, the Temple had become cluttered with stuff – booths, people, furniture, and behaviors that did not belong in God’s sanctuary. ….Though God had commanded that the faithful “have no other gods” before God nor make room for any “graven image” to stand in God’s place, gradually the people had cluttered the Temple with unholy things.
We are likewise guilty, of course. The churches we attend, the temple of our hearts, the architecture of our souls – spaces are carved, built, or emptied to provide a proper venue, a meeting place, for us to experience God: a space for God alone to fill. Gradually, though, we begin to fill in the emptiness with stuff. … Such things come between us and God, are “before God,” shielding us from the terrible and wounded intimacy that engenders true epiphanies.
Church “work” is one of those buffers. Behind the wall of her kitchen in Bethany, Martha is busy making dinner for Jesus. Her work for keeps her safely away from him. Similarly, there is a danger that for those who are busiest for God, many times these things are “before” God – in terms not just of priority but also of proximity. Our works are often a shield against religious experiences, places to hide, self-styled protection against the terror and wonder of real prayer and worship.
– Thomas R. Steagald
Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn
From pages 130-131 of Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus by Thomas R. Steagald. Copyright © 2010 by Thomas R. Steagald. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. http://bookstore.upperroom.org/ Learn more about or purchase this book.
What stands “before” God in your spiritual life as a wall, a buffer, a shield against real religious experience? Share your thoughts.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Exodus 14:21-22, NRSV
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This week we remember: Margaret Clitherow (March 25).
(Courtesy of Vanderbilt Divinity Library)
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