Perfect?

Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Perfect. Did you hear that? Perfect. Jesus said “Be perfect, as God is perfect.” What a burden.  No-one can do it. We are all going to come up short. “Perfect” is a problem–it leads us to perfectionism– Continue reading

A Dove-like Experience

On Day One—John the Baptist says, “There is the Lamb of God!” pointing to Jesus.

We are not sure exactly who he is talking to–then he tells his experience of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, when John baptized him in the River Jordan.  Continue reading

The Baptism of Jesus, and the YOU of God

A few years ago, I was trading emails with a priest who serves at Trinity Wall Street; Mark Bozzuti-Jones is their priest for pastoral care and community.

I don’t remember anymore what we were talking about, but I will never forget how he addressed me in those emails. He called me Anne of God! I found that very daunting. I wondered how anyone would live up to a name like that. Continue reading

Hell: What it is, What it isn’t

The Gospel paints a vivid picture of Hell.

Many of us have different ideas in our minds when we hear the word Hell. When I was a hospital chaplain intern, and on occasion since then, I have heard people say that they knew they were going to Hell—and they were scared. It is an important subject and I want to take this opportunity to talk about what Hell is, and what Hell isn’t. Continue reading

Holy

One of the most important words in the Bible is the word: Holy.

It represents the mystery, the majesty of the Divine. The word Holy appears very early in the first book of the Bible: Genesis. God speaks Creation into being. God creates the Earth, the planets, the stars, the sun. God separates the land from the water and creates living creatures. Then there is something that we are told God blesses and makes holy. What is it that God makes holy? Continue reading

Letter to the Hebrews

While it may not shock you to hear me say I am not a competitive athlete,

it may surprise you to hear that I love movies about sports—the struggle, the setbacks, the success—inspiring!

Continue reading

Do I Matter? Do I Matter to God?

When it begins to rain, do you lie down on the ground until the storm passes?

Probably not, but Andy Goldsworthy does. He is an artist, and a sculptor who works in the landscape, often with materials he finds where he is: usually leaves, sticks, rocks, and thorns. Continue reading

Christmas Day: Traveler on a Cosmic Journey

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Continue reading

God Has Been Watching: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

The Jerusalem Temple, Construction begun by Herod the Great in 20 B.C.E., completed under Agrippa II in 64 C.E.

For people who think of Jesus as meek and mild, his upending of the economic center of the Temple is a challenging image.  In John 2:13-22, this event is almost the first account of Jesus’ ministry–and his first public appearance.  (It appears later in the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke.)  The Temple was central to the worship of God by the people of Israel.  The first Temple was built during the reign of Solomon, approximately 1000 B.C.E., and was a much larger structure and complex than the second one.  The first Temple was destroyed around 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians, whose conquest carried many of the Israelites into exile (mostly the educated and skilled people).  The book of Ezekiel (chapter 40) envisions the rebuilding of the Temple.  When Cyrus the great of Persia conquered the Babylonians, he gave permission, money, and safe passage to those who wanted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and worship the God of Abraham and Sarah.  He also returned the holy vessels of the Temple which had been taken by the Babylonians.   The Temple buildings were reconstructed and richly adorned by Herod the Great. This was the Temple standing in Jesus’ time.  It was the central shrine and sanctuary for the entire nation, and the only place according to the legal codes in Deuteronomy (12-26), where sacrificial worship could be offered to God.

The Temple was a center of pilgrimage, where people faithful to God would come and offer sacrifices.  There was a currency exchange, so that people from other countries could conveniently change their money and pay the half-shekel Temple tax, and purchase unblemished animals suitable for sacrifice.  It was an orderly and accepted practice that benefitted those who came to worship.  So why was Jesus so angry that he grabbed a handful of cords and used them as a whip to break up the market?  The coins rang across the stones, pigeons flew into the sky, and people fled. Jesus shouted that they were profaning God’s house.  When Temple authorities protested–demanding to know on who’s authority Jesus was doing this–Jesus responded prophetically, demonstrating that he was cleansing the Temple on his own authority.  Jesus was enraged to the point of violence by the disconnect between God’s justice, and the oppression and exploitation that was condoned by the power structure of empire and Temple.  The context of this protest is the Passover, the week-long Spring festival commemorating the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.  Passover is associated with liberation from oppression, and divine salvation.  In an earlier critique of the Temple, the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.  ” ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Jesus and the Money Changers by Giotto

Jesus was pointing out that what began as a benign arrangement to provide services for travelers had turned into a racket.  And he foreshadowed the Crucifixion and Resurrection to come, challenging his hearers to destroy the Temple and he would raise it in three days.  The essential meaning of the story to the original hearers of John’s Gospel would be that Jesus had authority over the Temple.  And possibly, that his presence effectively replaced the Temple as the center of God’s presence among the people.

[The Temple finally was destroyed in the Jewish uprising against Rome in 70 C.E.  It has not been rebuilt, and the site is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock mosque.  Only the Western Wall (called the Wailing Wall) remains, it is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Temple’s courtyard.]

Questions to think about:

  • Have you ever been overcharged for something basic, like a bottle of water (in an airport, or a sports arena)?
  • A famous movie quote (from Blazing Saddles, parodying the Treasure of the Sierra Madre): when questioned about his authority, the character replies, “Badges! I don’t need to show you no stinkin’ badges!”  Do you see any similarities with this Bible passage?
  • Are there rooms in your spiritual life that need cleansing?  For example: your living room (area of recreation) or your closet (where your hang-ups live)?

Blessings,

Mother Anne+