Exodus 20:1-17 – Moses’ covenant (age 80?). Ten Commandments. I brought you out of the land of Israel.
Psalm 19 – Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You…
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – The gospel is foolishness to those perishing, but to us the power of God. Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. God chose what was weak and despised in the world…
John 2:13-22 – Cleansing of the Temple. Early in John’s gospel. Then resurrection prediction. Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.
The Covenant on Stone
In Lent B, our Hebrew Bible readings are focused on the covenants. The first Sunday of Lent we had God’s covenant with Noah, who we are told is 600 years old. The epistle text from I Peter referenced Noah. Last week we read about God’s covenant with Abraham who were are told was 99. The epistle text from Romans referenced Abraham. This week and next week we will cover God’s covenant with Moses who is apparently 80. The lifespan is plummeting. Lent 5 will culminate with God’s promise in the prophet Jeremiah, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”
Paul will pick up this thread in his second letter to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians). The new covenant is not written on stone like Moses’ Ten Commandments, but on hearts: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.“ He goes on to say God has made us:
ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!
Exodus: The Mosaic Covenant. The Ten Commandments form the center of the Mosaic Covenant. In all there are 613 commandments in the Torah, a contract between God and the Israelites. “I brought you out of the land of Israel.” Moses was purportedly 80 years old when he ascended Mount Sinai. The Covenant consisted of laws, holiness codes, cleanliness codes, and dietary codes to protect the people and maintain their holiness before God. It also had punishments for those who broke those codes. This is a conditional covenant. Follow my laws and statutes, and I will go before you and be your rear guard.
1 Corinthians: Gospel foolishness. The message of the cross is utter folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. The idea that we find our lives by losing them, that we save them by giving them away, must seem idiotic to those with a zero-sum view of life. “Eat and drink for tomorrow we die!” “Life is short. Grab all the gusto you can get.” Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach this unexpected message of Christ crucified. The weakness of God is greater than the strength of humans. The epistle for Lent 3 does not reference the Mosaic covenant as the epistle from Lent 1 mentioned Noah and the epistle from Lent 2 mentioned Abraham, but there is a clear proclamation of the gospel that transcends all human forms of religion.
John 2: The Cleansing of the Temple. This is one of the few stories that appears in all four canonical gospels. In John’s gospel, the Cleansing of the Temple happens early in Jesus’ ministry, rather than at its culmination, after his arrival in Jerusalem. Rather than being the catalyst for his crucifixion, in John the Cleansing sets the tone for his ministry from the outset. It also sets up tension in the plot.
John’s gospel is a challenge topographically. Jesus is baptized in Jordan (down near Jerusalem). Then he chooses his disciples (up in Galilee, near Capernaum where we are told Peter’s house is). He turns water into wine at Cana. No one really is sure where Cana is, but John says its in Galilee. There’s a town about 10 miles WSW of Tiberias called Kafr Kanna. That might be it. (See the red pin on the map below.) Jesus then makes a brief stop in Capernaum before heading to Jerusalem for Passover.
Capernaum can’t be seen on this map. It’s at the top of the Sea of Galilee. Permit me a brief excursus.
Locate Tiberius, on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. There is a nice Sheraton Inn in this town of 40,000. Tiberius is mentioned only once in the Bible, in John 6. Drive north out of Tiberius along the Sea of Galilee (aka Sea of Tiberius or Lake Gennesaret) and you will come to Migdal, the home of Mary of Migdal, the Magdalene. From Migdal it is only six miles further north to Capernaum.
On the north side of Capernaum you will see the Mount of Beatitudes. Our guide tells us Mount Sinai gave us the “Don’ts.” On the Mount of Beatitudes, Jesus gave us the “Dos.” Christianity is a religion of do’s. Mussolini built an octagonal church at the top of this hill. Further down towards the lake is the Bread and Fish Church. You can guess what they think happened there. Capernaum is about the same latitude as Dallas, but it has a bit warmer climate. Save your continuing educations dollars. At some point in your career it is worth a visit. It puts the gospel stories in perspective.
So, in John, Jesus goes like this: Jerusalem > Capernaum > Cana > Capernaum > Jerusalem > Samaria > Galilee and so on. This is, of course, quite possible, but it would be grueling (many several-day trips on foot), and it is a bit different than the itineraries of the other gospels.
In John, Jesus uses a whip to drive out the moneychangers, giving this event more force. In the synoptics Jesus says it’s written, “My house shall be a house of prayer [for all nations, Mark adds], but you have made it a den of robbers.” In John, Jesus doesn’t mention the “house of prayer,” but simply says, “Stop making my Father’s house a house of trade.” The word here is οἶκον ἐμπορίου, oikon emporiou. You can see the word “emporium.” One might translate this, “Stop making my Father’s house an emporium.” The NRSV chooses, “marketplace.” I like the word “mall.”
“Destroy this temple,” Jesus says, “and in three days I will rebuild it.” They protest. This temple has been under construction for decades, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days? But Jesus says he’s talking about the Temple of his body. In a play on words, Jesus substitutes himself for the Temple, and predicts the resurrection for those with ears to hear.
Last week we had a crucifixion prediction. This week we have a resurrection prediction.
John’s Jesus does not hate the Temple. Powell reminds us that the Temple has been in ruins 40-45 years by the time John wrote his gospel. The Temple is gone. John offers Jesus’ body as a remedy. And in the Scriptures, Jesus’ body becomes a euphemism for the church, which in John’s day is a network of small groups meeting in homes.
Some see Jesus calling for an end to the temple system. Perhaps so, but don’t miss the economic reforms implied here. John wants us to see Jesus as a reformer, like Nehemiah who drove out Eliashib’s grandson and turned over Tobiah’s furniture for leasing out the Temple storeroom in Nehemiah 13. Jesus is unhappy with what the Temple has become, an emporium. His anger is righteous indignation. Luther’s anger at the sale of indulgences comes to mind. It bothered him that Rome was being built on the backs of the poor, by the sale of forgiveness. The temptation to coopt religion for financial gain is great.
As an ecclesiam semper reformandum (a church always in reformation) we are called to evaluate and critique our religious systems, which can easily become so mired in the economic realities of resourcing organizations that they lose their primary purpose. This is as true of congregations as it is of denominations. We may want to look at others, and reform them, but more in the spirit of Jesus is looking at the log in our own eyes. How do we need to change, reform?
There is a deeper meta-message here. For the early church, Temple worship eventually became House worship, Church worship. A building as God’s dwelling place was replaced by Jesus in community as God’s dwelling place. God’s locus shifted from a building to a person. Animal sacrifice as a central act of worship (in many religions) was replaced by Jesus as the final sacrifice.
There is a danger of preaching supercessionism here. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that for Paul, faith brings life and salvation that the law cannot. Jesus transforms the water of all our human religious systems to the wine of faith, which is trusting in God’s promises. For the gospel writers, Jesus is the new Moses, ushering in a new covenant, not written on stone tablets, but on hearts.
This new covenant finds its strength not in the supremacy of Israel, but in the supremacy of humility and sacrifice. This all is nonsense, of course, by the world’s standards of power and privilege, but for those who have discovered in it a spring of water gushing up to eternal life, it is the very power of God.
How might our congregations encounter God through the humility of the cross? Might we not encounter Christ by seeking out those who are suffering most in our world?
Those who are studying prayer this Lent, reading one chapter a day in Learning to Pray Again, (www.bishopmike.com/pray) are likely around chapters 15-21. After a short chapter on making time for prayer, which we discussed earlier, we cover walking, music, journaling, confession, table prayer and praying for the world.
Walking has become my favorite way to prayer in this season of life. It amazes me how different forms of prayer work in the various stages of life. For most of my life, journaling didn’t work at all. Then, at some point in my early 40’s I was stuck in my prayer life, and I began writing. As I mention in the book, I simply began each day by writing, “Yesterday…” I committed to only writing one sentence, but most days I poured out a page. The journal became the place I collected thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams, confessions. Many sermon ideas found their way onto those pages. I processed conflicts. The best thing was I could return to these pages, and recall quite poignantly the feelings and issues at stake.
In a journal you can hand write a memory verse or prayer you are trying to memorize. Sometimes I would spend a week on a passage, and memorize it in several languages. In my journal I would write my prayer concerns and those given to me by others. This became for me a treasure and ushered in a period of time where my prayer life was the most rich it had ever been in my life. I commend it to you. If you do nothing else, purchase a blank book. If journaling isn’t your way of praying this year, it might be next year.
One note about table prayer. If “Come Lord Jesus” is your only prayer time during the day, your family is missing out on a lot. But table prayer is sacred time. This chapter encourages the use of table prayers and offers options. I encourage reclaiming the table as a place of faith, scripture and caring conversation. Turn off the television and make this time sacred.
Praying for the world is a holy enterprise. The world is in many ways smaller than ever. In this day of global telecommunications, what happens on the other side of the globe is known to us instantly and can affect life here in dramatic ways. It is easier than ever to be in relationship with people of other countries. Our companion synods in Peru and the Central African Republic feel closer than they did even 16 years ago when I made my first trek to Lima. Consider putting up a map of the world in your home, or setting out a globe. When a country comes up at school, at work or in the news, pray for it visually and tacitly.
As you experiment with these very different forms of prayer during Lent, I hope you’ll gather people for discussion. Listen to the stories. Share them. I would covet knowing that the time I spent writing this helped in some small way to bear fruit in someone’s spiritual life. Hearing these stories might encourage others to experiment in prayer.
May your continued observance of Lent be prayerful.