If only we could see it…
March 8, Third Sunday in Lent:
Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
Dressgate exploded a week ago Thursday on the inter-webs.
A picture of a dress went viral as people all over argued over what color it was.
Was it black and blue or white and gold?
Celebrities got involved.
Major news outlets across the globe ran stories on it, and started calling a whole bunch of neuroscientists, and people who study perception.
My own family couldn’t agree on it.
Monica saw it one way; I saw it another.
Within hours numerous stories explaining the science behind why we couldn’t agree on it had emerged.
It has to do with how our brains are wired to perceive color, and how we make interpretive decisions all the time.
Given the context, and the available lighting, our brains make thousands of micro-decisions about what it’s perceiving in order for us to make sense of it.
For some people given the very limited information in the photo they discount the blue side of the spectrum and end up interpreting it as white and gold; others discount the gold side of the spectrum and end up seeing blue and black.
I confess that although I know it is blue and black, in that particular picture I cannot “see” it as blue and black—the best I can do is see it as sort of light blue and gold.
Franciscan monk and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr likes to say: “we don’t see the world the way it is; we see the world the way we are.”
We are forever taking in all kinds of raw data, but what we see—what we perceive—is always some kind of interpretation of that data.
Last week, I encouraged us to think about how we respond to God—to the Divine.
How we respond when God comes to us in familiar ways—or ways we tend to prefer.
And how we respond when God comes to us in unexpected—or challenging ways.
How we might respond to Jesus’ invitation to take up our crosses and follow him.
Today, I’m wondering about how we perceive God, and maybe our inability to even “see” the Divine in certain situations.
“For some demand a sign and others desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others.”
The Gospel passage is like this as well.
We think “money changers in the temple” and most of us imagine a righteously angry Jesus throwing over tables and people fleeing in confusion and fear.
Jesus shouting about “a den of robbers”…
But that’s not exactly what happens in John.
That is (basically) how it unfolds in the synoptics.
And the incident in the Temple in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is the precipitating event that leads directly to Jesus’s arrest, trial, and execution.
But not in John.
In John, it comes at the very beginning of his ministry.
In John all that has happened so far is that he’s been pointed out by John the baptizer as “the one”. He’s called a few disciples. Turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana. And now he comes to Jerusalem for Passover.
“And he made a whip of cords and ran them all out of the temple, sheep and cattle alike, and dumped out the money-changer’s coins and overturned their tables; and to the people selling pigeons he said, “Get these things out of here; don’t make my father’s house a marketplace.” [Translation from: Countryman, L. William. The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel: Crossing Over Into God (Valley Forge, PA, Trinity Press International. 1995)]
Admittedly, it does sound chaotic, but not necessarily violent.
It’s much closer, in fact, to the kind of prophetic action we see Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets enacting.
A sort of prophetic street theatre—like the die-ins of recent months.
Ezekiel, for example, is instructed to take an exile’s baggage, and go about from place to place, then dig through the city wall, and carry the baggage through it. When the people ask what he’s doing, God instructs him to say: “I am a sign for you, as I have done so shall it be done to them, they shall go into exile.” (Ezekiel 12)
Jesus enters the temple and drives out the animals, and overturns the tables, and the Temple authorities come to him not with outrage and indignation, but with a request for an explanation of this sign that he is showing them.
“What sign do you show us—that you do these things.”
The action itself and Jesus’ comment about the market place would have reminded people (or it certainly reminded the author of John’s account) of the prophesies of Zechariah and the promised “day of the Lord.”
On that day, says Zechariah,—on the day of the Lord—“there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord.
On that day, the Lord will become king over all the earth.
On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.
On that day every cooking pot will be sacred to the Lord.” (Zechariah 14:9, 20-21)
There will no longer be need for the transactions of the Temple because God will be among us.
What Jesus is saying and doing here is proclaiming that this has effectively taken place.
Traders in the temple are superfluous. God is here. Today is the day of the Lord.
If only we can see that…
The trouble is…we get so used to seeing the world one way, its hard to see it any differently.
We discount the blue range or the gold range when looking at a dress on the internet.
If we think in terms of signs, we demand a sign.
If we think in terms of worldly wisdom, the cross is foolishness.
It’s like the old line that if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.
So much of our lives and culture is steeped in the transactional relationship of our economy that we begin to see all of our relationships as transactions.
And it’s the transactional nature of our relationships that needs to be changed.
“If this then that” works really well for computer programs,
If I input X I get output Y;
If I adjust the white balance in that photo of the dress then I can see it as blue and black.
It doesn’t work so well in human relationships.
But we fall into it all the time.
If I dress this way so and so will notice me, or respect me.
If I keep my mouth shut and go along with whatever, things will be easier.
If I do or say X then Y will happen.
Much of the time it appears to work, and so we think that this is the way it’s supposed to work.
And we even translate this into our relationship with God.
If I do this God will love me…if I do that I incur God’s wrath.
But the covenant—those Ten Commandments we heard again today–is actually an attempt to move us away from these transactional impulses.
Away from the all of our idols and false transactional Gods and into a relationship with the ultimate reality at the core of everything—the God of love.
They are not a divine “if this then that” but a statement of “who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ in this community of liberated slaves,” to quote Walter Brueggemann [Walter Brueggemann, The Book of “Exodus” in New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 1:841.]
They are the patterns relationships take when we actually commit to following way of life.
The way of peace.
The way of the cross.
But too often we don’t see them that way.
Too often we get stuck standing inside of temples of our own making, trying to conduct business with the God of life and love who stands before us.
Who consistently overturns our tables of transaction and continues to calls us into deeper relationship of life and love and grace.
If only we can see it.