1 Corinthians 1:18-25 & John 2:13-22
To challenge something or someone is to call into question, to contest something, to stand in opposition, to engage in argument, to object to or to make demands.
Before renewal comes challenge and
Before reconciliation comes challenge.
Challenge is important for us to move forward and something hard fought for is often appreciated more.
Think of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the War on Terror, the change to Australia’s gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre, the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse.
Challenge and Change and renewal is written large in our epistle and gospel readings. These are both very much about challenging the status quo – in values, in trust, in faith and in actions.
We often struggle when we think of Jesus in Matthew we, as described denouncing the scribes and Pharisees in this scene, making a whip of cords, attacking those gathered, upturning their tables, scattering their produce and coins – yelling, arguing, screaming, changing at people – challenging their activity.
Rather than an angry or violent Jesus, perhaps we need to see Jesus as a passionate protector or advocate of the faith – a faith that is so counter-cultural to that of those in the temple, who had a mindset fixed on worldly, commercial self-interest.
In this scene what I see is the challenge birthing something new.
We’ve all seen wildlife specials or in national geographic magazines, salmons swimming in from the sea, swimming upstream, encountering the challenges of fast, flowing currents, exerting themselves to jump up waterfalls, while dodging hungry predators, such as bears, in order to spawn and lay eggs in the calmer inland lakes and pools.
Then, like Jesus, after swimming against the tide and birthing a new understanding of God and personal relationship with God – being exhausted in his earthly life and taken by predators to die an ignoble death.
I see the challenge in the temple as the encountering of opposition while swimming upstream towards the goal. In Jesus’ time in the wilderness, which we read about a few weeks ago, the temptation is to take shortcuts, to avoid struggle, to find the easy way through.
The challenge is to move through the struggle taking the hard way – like Jesus on Good Friday – rather than being taken out of Good Friday and heading straight for an Easter Sunday scenario.
Think about that next time you read Matthew chapter 6:13-14 – about the narrow and the wide road.
Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians is not so physical as Jesus’. It is more like an iron fist in a velvet glove – his words can sting in their challenge for us too.
Paul invokes the ‘followers of the way’ – the term used for the earliest Christians to reinforce the attitudes and beliefs, and thinking about Christianity as a counter-cultural movement.
Most Jews, he said, were looking for signs and prophecy of God’s movement in a victory over the Romans. Paul tells us they didn’t recognise the signs that were happening, the prophecies being fulfilled and a victory won – not over the Romans but a far bigger enemy – a victory over sin, evil and death.
Likewise, so many gentiles, then and now, were not looking for wisdom in a cross, and certainly not wisdom in a Jewish peasant, but in their own power and own independent means.
So many of us are new age seekers of some reasonable and intelligent sounding spiritualised philosophy, where we downplay or redefine sin and evil to what we want them to be and we pick and choose self-help books or bits from different religions to become more God-like.
Many think that it is foolishness to submit to someone else’s authority, let alone a God who loves all the way to the cross, then onto an empty tomb.
The challenge for us is to stand firm in our faith and not be swayed by the naysayers, the ultra-protagonists, sceptics, narcissists, empiricists and rationalists who work by a less inclusive set of values and patterns of thinking.
The challenge is also for us to trust God’s plan. Jesus could demonstrate such boldness in the temple, because he knew his life was in God’s hands.
There’s no in-between either when it comes to our response to the authority with which Jesus communicates the gospel. We must proclaim the gospel with a sense of urgency like Jesus did leading up to Calvary.
Jesus’ passion and anger and outrage must be also in the make-up of our response to the world God designed for us – lest we preach a watered-down gospel that demands nothing of anyone – no confession, no repentance, no forgiveness and no discipleship.
In our commissioning today, we must recognise the danger of Jesus in the authoritative and challenging word he speaks, for it demands our all. Such a word was dangerous in the first century and no less dangerous today.