Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Zeal of the Cross

This coming Sunday's scriptures (available by clicking here*) mention God's bold action in bringing slaves out of Egypt and, through Jesus, driving merchants out of the Jerusalem temple.

Praise God for these acts of God's powerful love! The exodus tells us that people shouldn't be enslaved. The cleansing of the temple shows that people shouldn't be taken advantage of by religion. The abolition of slavery and the reformation of the church** were, in part, inspired by these biblical events. Other scriptures, such as Psalm 72:12-14, proclaim God's concern for those who exploited and oppressed.

This is important! Those of us who know the Lord are called to act on behalf of justice and freedom for all. Though this world will never be the home of a complete or perfect "kingdom of God," there is no excuse for simply sitting back and letting people suffer. "Liberation Theology" and the "Social Gospel" movement do not have the whole truth, but they are correct in this: God does care for the well being of people in this life. Christians ought to care for and love those in need, doing what we can to remove the root causes of unjust suffering. We should not put all our focus on the life to come.

ON THE OTHER HAND, as we get busy fighting against what is wrong and for what is right in this world, we need to know that we, like Jesus, will be on the losing side. The zeal of God, burning in Jesus' soul, led to his death. Immediately after acting boldly in the temple in John 2, Jesus lets it be known that he expects to lose. His zeal, in terms of this world, is foolishness. It does not put an end to religious exploitation. His whole ministry does not shift the balance of good and evil in the world. Here, in this world, evil still wins. (It's only in the resurrection, beyond this world, that complete and final victory comes.)

So we have this paradox. God would have us do good. He would have us love and care and bring as much freedom and justice as possible. As we do this, however, we will be misunderstood and mistreated. In the end, when we follow our Lord, we will sometimes look like fools. People will often say, "why can't you just settle down?" Some Christ-followers will even follow their Lord to the death. In some parts of the world, and in some homes and neighborhoods in our country, martyrdom still occurs. We should never be surprised by this. Both Moses and Jesus were, after all, treated as criminals during their lifetimes, and Jesus, God in the flesh, died as one.

But, Jesus says, "Destroy this temple (meaning the "temple of his body"), and in three days I will raise it up." The resurrection of our Lord proves that God's way is right! Finally, in the end, it will be shown that doing good is not a lost cause.

God's message to us, then, is that EVEN when we are misunderstood, mistreated and end up being losers, godly courage ("zeal") can and will burn bright among us, both for the salvation of souls and the freedom of those oppressed. It may seem foolish, but "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." (First Corinthians 1:25)

One caution: Don't do this alone. We need our Lord and each other. It's in the community of the church that we can keep the balance between paying attention to the things of this earth and the things of heaven.

This is just the beginning of some thought's for this Sunday's message... more later! Time to to relax and hit the hay!

*Scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary
**See the 95 theses of Martin Luther, especially #27, 28, 45, 51 and many more.

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