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March 7, 2021

“Priorities”

(From John 2: 13-17)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The sign over the blackboard in the front of the fifth grade classroom read: “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” It was the mantra of Mr. Miller for his fifth grade class. He used it as a means of preparing them to leave the one teacher and one classroom environment of grade school and experience the new world of Junior High School. He told parents at the parents’ night meet and greet that this was his way of teaching the class about priorities. Mr. Miller knew that his students would soon face a different world of school than they experienced in the protected environment of his classroom, and he wanted them to be practiced in making good and responsible decisions. He knew well that so many aspects of their future rested upon learning the important life lesson of setting and keeping priorities well.

Today’s Gospel lesson from John Chapter 2 also deals with the topic of priorities. Jesus and his Disciples went to the Temple in Jerusalem at Passover. There Jesus found several people who were selling cows, sheep and doves, as well as moneychangers making all manner of currency exchanges. Making a whip of cords, Jesus drove them all out of the temple, saying “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Now, to understand this passage of scripture, we need a bit of background regarding the activities that took place in the Jewish temple. You see, the animals that were being sold were for the purpose of being sacrificed in the temple. As biblical scholars and commentaries will inform us, these animals were needed because many travelers on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem would come from far off places. It was necessary for them to acquire the animals needed for their temple sacrifice from a local supplier. There was also a need for moneychangers who could exchange other currencies for Jewish money that was acceptable in the temple. This sounds logical and rational, and it should be no problem, right? Not! You see, it was not the local supply of animals or currency for temple use that Jesus found objectionable. It was the fact that these commercial activities and transactions were now taking place within the actual sacred space of the temple, rather than in the nearby public streets. The commentary found in The New Oxford Annotated Bible states the situation well in saying that Jesus’ action in the temple was “not an outburst of temper, but rather the energy of righteousness against religious leaders to whom religion had become a business.” In other words, although the services that were being provided were necessary, the temple was the wrong place in which to transact them. The temple authorities had lost their sense of priorities regarding the sacredness of the temple, and were now conducting worldly business transactions within its sacred and holy space. Instead of the temple exerting its influence upon the thoughts and activities of the world, the mind of the world had entered the temple.

I like the visual picture created for us of Jesus’ righteous energy acting against the commerce he found taking place in the temple at Jerusalem. It was by no means caused because Jesus was a legalist about Jewish laws, rituals or traditions. He certainly was not. The Gospel of Luke Chapter 6 relates two occasions where Jesus openly challenged Jewish laws and customs that simply followed the letter of the law and no the spirit of the law. Let’s take a look and we can see them now for ourselves.

Jesus was walking through some cornfields on the Sabbath. His disciples began to pick the ears of corn, rub them in their hands, and eat the grain. Some Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what our Law says you cannot do on the Sabbath?” Jesus answered them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, took the bread offered to God, ate it, and gave it also to his men. Yet it is against our Law for anyone except the priests to eat that bread.” And Jesus concluded, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath Jesus went into a synagogue and taught. A man was there whose right-hand was paralyzed. Some teachers of the Law and some Pharisees wanted a reason to accuse Jesus of doing wrong, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew their thoughts and said to the man, “Stand up and come here to the front.” The man got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you: what does our Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To help or to harm? To save someone’s life or destroy it?” He looked around at them all; then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand became well again.

Jesus was not a legalist, but one who cared deeply about the physical as well as spiritual welfare of others. He utilized teachable opportunities and moments to insure that his Disciples and followers had their hearts, and their priorities, straight. As he said to them, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus set the tone, and the example, of living a life where one’s priorities are aligned with God’s plan and purposes for good. And so, from today’s lesson, we are reminded that there is no spiritual good to be gained from turning the sacred space of the holy temple in Jerusalem into a “marketplace” filled with the worldly business of commerce. Translation: the world’s value system does not belong in our church!

So, Church, on this third Sunday in Lent I ask you the Wesleyan question, “How goes it with our soul?” By this I mean how is your spiritual journey going this Lenten Season of 2021? Do you feel that you are growing in the Spirit as you practice the disciplines of our faith-prayer, fasting, studying and meditating on the Holy Scriptures, worshipping together and providing mutual support and accountability, and engaging in the sacrificial act of giving our time, talents and finances? Have you taken time to examine your priorities? Lent is the opportune season for us to practice the policy of Mr. Miller and to plan for our spiritual welfare and future, so that we will not fail in life’s difficult moments. During these days of COVID-19 separation for our safety, we have the prime opportunity to take steps to bolster not only our physical health, but our spiritual well-being and our priorities. What we make our priority will be our priority, and that will determine what we will learn, how we will grow and who we will become through our actions on behalf of others. In the image of our good and righteous Lord, Jesus, let us plan to make growing in our own personal holiness our priority as we continue on our spiritual journey this very Lenten season. Amen, and let it be so.

“Be Thou My Vision”

(words: Ancient Irish; trans. By Mary E. Byrne and versed by Eleanor H. Hull, music: trad. Irish melody; harm. by Carlton R. Young)

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art. Thou my vest thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word; I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord; Thou and thou only, first in my heart, great God of heaven, my treasure thou art.