MARKET FORCES?

THANKSGIVING SUNDAY in Bramhall today (pdf here) – and the Gospel for the day ensured that nobody could be kidded into believing that Jesus thought church life was just about filling up the collection plates.

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. John 2.13-22

It’s a bit dangerous, I think, to put words into the mouths of a group of onlookers who lived 2000+ years ago. Slightly less risky, perhaps, to suggest that observers of this same scene today might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus was bonkers! – overwrought, consumed by zeal. For God’s sake Jesus! Everyone knows that Temples don’t grow on trees! Everyone knows that this edifice “to the Glory of God” has got to be paid for. And in the market-place, as Fagin might have it,

Charity’s fine, subscribe to mine. You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two, boys, you’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two …

Nonetheless, there’s no avoiding it. In fact you could say that the anger building up in this scene would lead to his being crucified for it. But Jesus poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. ‘Stop making my Father’s house a market place!’. Whatever the economy of God was going to run on it wasn’t going to be the market. And – chillingly prophetic – this Second Temple, forty-six years in the making, for all its heritage and glory, would be razed to the ground before another forty years had passed – whilst the body of Christ would be “raised in three days”.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

St Teresa of Avila

Is our Thanksgiving then to be confined to celebrating the resurrection of the crucified, dead and buried body of Jesus of Nazareth? Or are we to thank God for our having been given hands and feet and eyes and ears? Are we to thank God for that Divine Commission – by the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth – that calls us to BE TEMPLES of Divine hospitality? Shall we thank God for the evidence all around us of gracious and Divine inclusivity? Isn’t it the Body of Christ now on earth that will offer up praise to God today?

God is surely to be praised for that measure of generous Love that welcomes ME – believing, encouraging, shaping, moulding, creating – so that I become all that I am intended to be. You can’t worship God by charging for access to his Covenanted Love, (Sunday Mass attendance and a couple of quid, or a couple of turtle doves in the basket) – still less by being perpetually absorbed in counting the funds in the Temple coffers. The Temple, the funds and the worship that Divine Life is interested in embraces everyone because God’s Temple is everyone. God’s “home is where the heart is, it’s our resting place”.

So what does Thanksgiving Sunday ask us to offer time, talents and money for? What are we seeking to uphold? What are we seeking to build?

Nothing short of fullness of Life, nothing short of an over-arching “Temple” for every child, woman and man upon the face of the earth. Nothing short of the reign of the fullness of Life that might be called “the reign of God”. Nothing short of clean water for all who are thirsty. Nothing short of enough bread and fishes for  those whose bellies complain of starvation whilst they strain to hear our stories. Nothing short of welcome for prodigals, homeless, refugees and outcasts, gay, straight, male or female, man, woman or child.

Fund raising, point-scoring religion is to be scattered across the floor of the Court of the Gentiles – “Take these things out of here”. Hospitality, inclusion, the shared bread and wine of the kingdom, healing, dignity for all persons, proper respect for all created things – including those honoured and beloved children of God for whom the Court of the Gentiles was built in the first place – these are the attributes of a living Temple to God’s glory.

Let no-one be coerced into an offering of time, talents or money unless they share some or all of such a vision. Let those who do share the vision make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Let them be consumed with zeal for such a house of the Lord. Let them offer hearts and souls and minds and bodies. Let them sing “Now thank we all our God”. And let there also be time for silent contemplation and reflection upon and within living temples.