Thursday, March 16, 2006
Cleansing the Temple: Down with Doves!
“He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take those things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (John 2:16)
Sheesh, what’s Jesus got against doves, anyway?
No, of course it isn’t about doves. It is about exploitation. The system (comprised of money changers, dove sellers, and priests) was exploiting the sacred ritual of sacrifice for the sake of earthly gain - money and power - which those in the system craved even if it meant the degradation of the temple itself.
Here’s the system: In order to be faithful you must make a sacrifice at the temple; in order to sacrifice you must have an animal; in order to have an animal you either drag one all the way from home or buy one when you get there; in order to buy one you cannot use secular coins since they have human images engraved on them; in order to get proper coins you must exchange money; in order to exchange money you have to pay a fee to the money changers, who then give you the right currency so you can by an appropriate animal so you can make your sacrifice so that you can be faithful to God.
It all makes sense; the system fits together quite nicely. However, it is important to point out that Jesus wasn’t only confronting the people (who were probably less than honest) changing money and selling doves, but also confronting the system itself. It is the system that exploits; the people were caught up in the system such that the system had become the focus of attention, rather than God.
It’s a good thing our systems today never exploit sacred things for earthly gain any more, isn’t it? (The preceding was written with drippingly sarcastic tone of voice.) Think of judges demanding granite decalogues on courthouse lawns; think of preachers insisting that there is only one way to think about God; think of legislators legislating that public school students be encouraged to pray; think of school boards treating the Bible like just another history book; just for a few examples. They get a lot of attention, a lot of press coverage, a lot of reaction – all of which generates power and wealth – and yanks the focus away from God. “‘Round and ‘round goes the carousel.”
This week’s gospel lesson is more than a story about Jesus; it is a story about us. Every exploitive system needs overturning, and disciples of Jesus Christ are called to follow his example and turn them over. As the Divine Liberator, Christ sets people free from exploitive and oppressive systems. My relationship with God is far too sacred, far too important, far too precious for me to allow it to be trapped in and exploited by the systems of this world.
Nothing against doves or anything, but if they are keeping me from meeting God, they have to go!