Today’s readings offer much food for reflection. We could talk about commandments, the Law, the Torah. Suffice it to say that, for Jews, the Torah, the Laws, are seen as a positive thing. The Law sets them free. This is much different from our individualistic Western approach where we often disdain law as confining us. The Torah sets the structures for people living together. Religion is never just about me. It is about us. True religion fosters love and compassion for all others. Sometimes this is not the case. Back during the time of the great Haiti earthquake, I heard a conversation at the pool—you can learn a lot at the pool—about how great the Gospel sing had been the night before. The next conversation of heard was, “I do not know why we are bring all those injured Haitians here and treating them at our expense.” True religion has to be based on justice and compassion and the Law set the foundation.
I want to focus the rest of our time on the Gospel from John. John was written later than Mark, Matthew, and Luke—the so-called synoptic Gospels because they share common sources. The other Gospels mention nothing of whips and driving out. This text is often used wrongly to show that Jesus was not nonviolent. We do not have time to go there but let me say that I am convinced that Jesus was truly nonviolent.
Jesus is about two matters that are central to true religion—inclusivity and concern for all people including the least among us. The Temple was very exclusive in is design and operation. The Temple also provided a venue for people to make a profit off of worship and sacrifice.
The Temple had various courts. The innermost—the Holy of Holies—allowed only the High priest to enter once a year. All Jews could enter the next court. Then there was the Court of the Gentiles. A sign at the Temple warned that any non-Jew who entered was subject to death. Not a very welcoming place if you were a Gentile.
Jesus, especially in John’s Gospel, is proclaiming that the Temple and all its exclusivity is history. Jesus is the new Temple, the new source of God presence. All are welcome in Jesus’ kin-dom. Race, gender, color, sexual orientation, and creed are not barriers. Black, white, and yellow are welcome. Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims are welcome. Yes, I said Muslims are welcome. Most Muslims are decent God-fearing folk. A few radicals are extremists. These are the enemies Jesus told us to love. He did not say it was all right to hate our enemies. We are to pray for our enemies, even those who persecute us. All are welcome at the heavenly banquet table and at this table.
Second, Jesus had great compassion for all people. He loved John the Beloved Disciple and Peter the denier. Jesus had a special place in his heart for the least among us. In fact, he told us that the first shall be last. It is when we are on the bottom that we can truly understand Jesus and his concern for justice. Temple worship required that people exchange their money for money without offensive images. The money changers were profiteering on the backs of the poor. In cleansing the Temple Jesus is overturning the tables that rip off the poor as they pay for required animal sacrifices.
We have many examples of this in the history of the church. People who found their way to the bottom got what Jesus is all about. It seems as if being on top gets in the way of understanding true religion.
Francis of Assisi is an example, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant gave up all his possessions and stripped naked as he walked through the streets of his hometown. I do not recommend the latter as it might cause quite a stir in our resort! Francis’ heritage lasts to this day as our new Pope deliberately chose his name and now models his papacy on Franciscan ideals.
Ignatius of Loyola, a wealthy noble, wounded in war turned to God and founded the Jesuits. Their influence in the church has been significant. Indeed, Pope Francis is a Jesuit.
Nearer to our own day is Mother Teresa, a nun who gave up teaching in prep schools to cradle the destitute dying poor on the streets of Calcutta.
Another Ocscar Romero who was an archbishop in El Salvador. He lived the luxurious life of many archbishops. Then his priest friend, Rutillo Grande, who was trying to help poor peasants was killed by the coyotes who were ripping them off. Oscar did a 360 and became a leading advocate for justice for the poor and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Strangely enough there was a letter from the Vatican relieving him of his duties that did not get delivered. See, even the church sometimes does not get Jesus’ message.
Two weeks from now, Joan and I will be on a Pax Christi Florida retreat with Father Bob Cushing, a priest friend from Georgia. Bob has borne witness to the nonviolence of Jesus and paid the price. As an associate pastor in Augusta, GA, he went with the Pax Christi USA delegation to Japan on the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ask forgiveness for our use of the bombs on civilian populations. When he returned, the people of his parish wanted him removed. There is a heavy military presence with Fort Gordon in Augusta. The bishop relieved Bob of his duties and left him in limbo for six months until he assigned him to a parish in rural Georgia. Bob realized his parish had a lot of migrant workers. He took a crash course in Spanish and continued his ministry.
Finally, there is Pope Francis, a compassionate champion for justice. His theme is God’s mercy. Francis lived the good life as a Jesuit superior and later as an archbishop until he went to the bottom. He began working side by side with his fellow priests in the barrios of Argentina and has a conversion of heart. He, in the opinion of Richard Rohr, is the first pope who has also been a prophet. Pope usually try to silence prophets. Francis speaks out about economic inequities and the abuse of the environment.
What does this mean for us? First of all we are to welcome all. Second, we are to have compassion on the least among us and work for justice. In our culture today, it is very difficult to be on the fringe and to live like Francis of Assisi, Ignatius, Teresa of Calcutta, Oscar of El Salvador, Bob of Waycross, and Pope Francis.