Lent 3 2018 (Year B)
This Third Sunday in Lent is a good time to take our bearings and think about where we are in the Lenten journey. For many of us, we have been on this journey before. What’s new? The truth about Lent is that there are no short cuts. It takes time.
The great Russian priest, Father Alexander Men, who was assassinated in 1990, has this to say:
“The good news of Christ was preceded by a call to repentance … and the very first word of Jesus’ teaching was “Repent”. Remember that in Hebrew this word means “turn around” and “turn away from the wrong road.” While in the Greek text of the gospels, it is rendered by an even more resonant word, metanoite. In other words, rethink your life. This is the beginning of healing. Repentance is not a sterile grubbing around in one’s soul, and not some masochistic self-humiliation, but a re-evaluation leading to action. The abscess must be lanced, otherwise there will be no cure.”
Taking his lead, we can think of Lent as a journey where we seek healing, where the process is one of careful re-thinking of our lives as we journey toward Easter. This is a journey that carries a hope and an expectation – that we will be changed. That we will see the world afresh, see it charged with the presence of God and know again in our hearts the exuberance and delight of God.
Sunday by Sunday we have followed the scriptures, especially the gospels: and of these it is essential that we remember that we are following the stories of Jesus that were written years after the first Easter. They were written long after the resurrection and after the apostles, the early church and other witnesses had had time to reflect, understand and assemble the greatest story in their different ways.
How can we imagine the transforming reality of the empty tomb? Even more the risen Christ who appears through locked doors and says ‘peace be with you’? The world changed that Easter morning; lives were transformed even as these witnesses were bewildered and frightened by what made no sense at all. Each gospel tells these events in its own way. Each gospel is an opportunity and invitation for us to re-think our life.
So it is with John this morning. While the synoptic gospels (the name given to Matthew, Mark, and Luke) only have Jesus enter Jerusalem at the Passover, when he is killed; but John has Jesus in Jerusalem at the Passover at the start of his gospel and includes this dramatic scene when he clears out the temple, which would certainly have attracted hostile attention from the authorities. Here is Jesus in the centre of the Jewish world: the temple, the holy place where the rituals that ensure Jewish identity and faith are maintained; and he turns it all upside down. It must have been shocking to those who observed it. It must have raised questions for his followers. It certainly raised questions for those who would oppose him; John just calls them ‘the Jews’. We see the questioning Jews misunderstand Jesus when he mentions the temple but means his body – that he will raise it up in three days.
To make sense of what is going on we need to go back to the start of the Chapter (2) to the phrase that begins: ‘On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.’ We all remember the story – this is the moment when Jesus is asked to help in an embarrassing social situation – the wine has run out. You know the story, at his command the stone jars are filled with water and taken to the chief steward who tastes and praises it as ‘good wine’ and we are told “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” (2:11)
John is directing our attention to a defining moment in his story of Jesus. The disciples have just witnessed Jesus reveal his glory; show who he truly is; and they believe. As he turns water into wine, the old and the ordinary into something totally new, so among them is the incarnate God, the promised Messiah. We may well assume that the disciples have had to re-think their lives.
The wedding in Cana is the springboard for what now happens as the scene shifts a hundred miles south to the incident in the temple. The last book of the Old Testament canon (Mal. 3:1-4) had prophesied that the Messenger of the Lord would suddenly come to his temple like a refiner’s fire, and so Jesus suddenly appears in the temple and expels all the elements of the old spiritual order. This temple and its options for sacrifice are no longer needed, for he is the one who will be the sacrifice. The old order has gone and the Lord is among his people: he will fulfil all the festivals, the sacrifices and the temple itself. Truly a moment for re-thinking one’s life!
The story takes us to this point: but where do we stand? Are we among the believing disciples? Amazed and confused, but trusting in Jesus nonetheless; even as he shakes the institution that they have been brought up with, and cherish. Maybe we are like the religious authorities: resistant, literalist, and always wanting some better evidence, or argument. Will we use this Lent to re-think our lives?