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“Tossing Temple Tables:Rules vs. Relationship”

In worship this coming Sunday, we will hear the scripture passage from John 2 about Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple. It’s an exciting story. It seems like Jesus gets mad and takes out his anger on the “bad guys.” He makes His point, and He makes it clearly. He even made a whip!

As a child, I appreciated this image of Jesus. I guess, in a way, it made me feel like I was given permission to experience a full range of emotions as well. The command of Jesus to “turn the other cheek,” is often difficult for me to embrace… but the idea of living in the example of a Messiah who expressed righteous anger was something I could embrace.

Looking at this text through fresh eyes, I see it in a different way. Jesus’ goal is not to “get rid of the bad guys.” In challenging the practices of those selling in the temple courts, Jesus wants to make sure that rules and transactions aren’t interfering with the ability of people to relate to God. It is easy to allow my religious beliefs to fall into a shallow set of rules and restrictions. The Ten Commandments, the Old Testament, and even Christ’s teachings in the New Testament are not intended to provide a checklist for holy living.

In my simplistic mindset, I want to keep score:

Good people do these things. So, if I do these things, then I’m a good person.”

“Bad people do those things, so if I avoid those things, then I won’t be like the bad people.”

“Jesus doesn’t like people exchanging money in the temple, so if I can avoid this (which is easy because we don’t even really have a temple), then I should be on Jesus’ good list…right?”

I’m not so sure. I think Jesus was opposed to the habits and practices of those who turned a relationship with God into a transactional reality. You can’t buy your way into heaven. God’s favor is not merely for those who can afford it. God desires a relationship with everyone. That relationship is not based on sacrifice or offerings or even following the rules. The relationship, the intimacy with Christ that we desire, is based on intention and integrity. The season of Lent can shift our focus towards acts of piety and penitence. These aren’t a problem, but neither are they the goal. In the midst of this season, lean into a relationship and discover how God’s presence transforms you.

Do you ever struggle with this tension between sampling abiding by the rules versus pursuing a relationship? How do you navigate?

Very truly,

Pastor Adam

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1 Comment

This picture has actually been the subject of a meme that has been going around recently. The meme's caption reads: "If anyone ever asks you, 'What would Jesus do?', remind him or her that flipping tables and chasing people with whips is amongst the possibilities." Haha! I think that's sort of a funny way of summing up part of what you've conveyed in this blog. To me, it "humanizes" Jesus. If he can get mad and angry, I can too, right? Well, sort of.

Expanding on the notion of not being able to buy our way into heaven...I think it ties in with the humanization idea, too. Jesus has experienced the feeling of human anger. So for me, it only…

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