Year B, 3rd Sunday in Lent
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”(Psalm 19:14)
As I read the texts this week I wonder if the spiritual practices of the psalmist, heart contemplation of God’s wisdom and laws prompting proclamation led Jesus to the subversive action of overturning the money-changing tables in the temple? The obvious answer seems to be “Yes, of course! Jesus was no doubt well-schooled in the psalms.” However, this is not a verse normally associated with the spiritual social justice action Jesus took in driving out the money-changers. Can we connect these two images from the lectionary this week?
Our first three texts speak of deeply internalizing the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom is proclaimed in the story of the law, the Ten Commandments, given to the Israelite people through Moses. This is the very God who has delivered them from slavery. Why would they not want to keep God’s laws in their hearts and follow its wisdom as the psalmist proclaims? The law of the Lord is “perfect”, that is, whole and complete. The psalmist proclaims that it is proclaimed without words in the very fabric of creation.
Yet Paul writes to the church at Corinth that God’s message of the wondrous perfection, the wholeness and completion of living in God’s ways, was not comprehended fully through the law. Therefore God proclaimed this wisdom again through “the foolishness of the cross”. Jesus’ state execution as an innocent man exposed the evil of oppression and corruption, hatred and injustice in the human systems of the world. Yet God was greater than this evil. Jesus’ resurrection transformed the power of evil through God’s ultimate power of love. This is “foolishness” to the Greeks who desire philosophical, ordered wisdom. It is “foolishness” to the Jews who look for signs of God’s work in the world because the death was too scandalous for one proclaimed Messiah. Surely the leader anointed by God would not be convicted as criminal and put to death in the most shameful way that Rome could devise!
Overturning the traditions of the temple culture, driving out the moneychangers and sellers of sacrificial animals, would also be shocking “misbehavior” for the Messiah. Wouldn’t the one sent to free God’s people from the Romans and take back the Promised Land for Israel would uphold all the laws of temple sacrifice?
We surmise that Jesus was schooled in the Torah, the psalms and the prophets. Throughout the gospels he reportedly held their meditations in his heart day and night. “You shall have no other gods before me” state the commandments in Exodus. Psalm 19:10-12 sings that God’s laws are “More to be desired … than gold … sweeter also than honey … moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Then the psalmist asks God, “Clear me from hidden faults.” “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Could Jesus have meditated on these very words as fuel for his ministry of justice and love?
We do not know what was truly working in the mind and heart of Jesus as he overturned the temple. I would guess from his actions and teachings of God’s radical hospitality and justice for the poor that the words of the prophets influenced his meditation as much as than the psalms and Torah. Still it fascinating to wonder about the connections in Jesus’ heart between the scriptural word of God that he studied, learned, and prayed and the radical actions he took as he embodied and proclaimed God’s Word of “wisdom” and sacred “foolishness” here in God’s realm on earth.
The world of story is full of wisdom tales. Every folk tale and sacred tradition has wisdom tales. It seems that is the way we learn wisdom best as human beings – through story. We can try on the choices of story characters for size and learn their lessons without having the experience the real life consequences of mistakes.
The wise fool stories of the Sufi teacher, Hodja Nasrudin, are always a good source of wisdom with a puzzling twist. There is an interesting story about him entitled “The Lost Ticket”. I think it could be about seeking wisdom and where we find it or are afraid we will not find it. I found the in an interesting blog by the poet, photographer, therapist and writer, Ashen. She shares this story from one of my favorite books, one I have often shared with you, Doorways to the Soul by Elisa Davy Pearmain. You can find the story and Ashen’s blog at https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/tag/nasrudin/
Another story I found from another favorite source, William White’s Stories for the Journey, is titled “Soap and Religion”. White tells us it is based on a Jewish tale.
It seems the Teacher was telling stories in the marketplace to a group of children. The town’s soapmaker overheard the stories and scoffed at them in his heart. He attempted to embarrass the Teacher in front of the children saying, “How can you claim that religion is good and valid when there is so much suffering and evil in the world? What good are all your stories and sermons and acts of kindness? What effect do they really have on the violence and trouble of this world?”
The Teacher looked at the soapmaker and then gestured to the child in his lap. “This is Jacob,” he said. “ He is three and he has been playing all day. As you can see he has dirt on his knees and elbows. Some on his face, even in his hair from the good time he had wrestling on the ground with his brother, Joel. So what good is soap when Jacob and Joel and hundreds of other children like them are dirty? How can you pretend that soap is effective?”
“Well,” sputtered the soapmaker angrily, “That is a foolish argument! If soap is to be effective it must be used!”
“Precisely,” said the Teacher. “If the teachings and stories of God are to be effective, they must be used as well.”
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015. Text and photos may be used or reprinted by permission only.