Weekly Bible Devotional
“Fear Not: Selling and Buying Fear”
October 4, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: John 2:13-25
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
Notes on the Text:
This story appears in all four Gospels. However, in the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) it appears towards the end of Jesus’ ministry as part of his passion narrative. Placing the story in the beginning of the Gospel sets the tone for the whole narrative and presentation of Jesus as the one who was bringing the renewal of God’s covenant with Israel as an alternative to the powers of domination in the world, i.e., the Roman Empire and the religious leadership of the temple. Challenging the status quo of his day about the temple and its leadership was a central part of the ministry of Jesus. This story gives us an overview of Jesus’ work of transformation.
In John 2 we hear about Jesus visiting the temple in Jerusalem where he confronted the money changers. The temple was an essential part of the Jewish identity at that time. All the Jews in Diaspora tried to go to Jerusalem for the high holy days. Yet, the temple priests evoked resentment because of their connection to the Roman Empire which was occupying the land. The chief priests in the temple were appointed by the Roman officials and served their interests. The temple was the place for collecting taxes for the temple and for the Roman Empire. The disruption of the commercial activities in the temple during a high holy festival meant a major loss of revenue for the Roman government. It would be like shutting down all major stores on Black Friday!!!
The prophetic act of Jesus of the cleansing of the temple was a bold plan for communicating a strong message of hope and transformation for the people of Israel. It was a nonviolent act of resistance to the powers of the day and to the blindness of the people to a way out of the social injustices of their country. Jesus challenged the scapegoating mentality. One of the most common strategies for domination is selling fear by having a common enemy, a scapegoat that we can blame for our problems. The term “scapegoat” comes from an ancient Jewish ritual, which, according to French philosopher and writer René Girard, “consisted of driving into the wilderness a goat on which all the sins of Israel had been laid. The high priest placed his hands on the head of the goat, and this act was supposed to transfer onto the animal everything likely to poison relations between members of the community. The effectiveness of the ritual was the idea that the sins were expelled with the goat and then the community was rid of them.” Somehow as human beings we have believed in violence as a way out of our fear. We have believed that if we projected our fears on an animal, a person, or a group of people, we then don’t have to deal with them ourselves. With the projection of fear, we could violate others for the sake of finding our peace and security. Jesus modeled an alternative way to help deal with fear instead of projecting it onto others.
Often times, we find ourselves caught up in the polarities of our dualistic worldviews. We get trapped having to be on one side or the other: good or evil, rich or poor, life or death, right or left, and so on. We think that we have to be the good guys who get rid of the bad guys, even if we have to use violence. But Jesus offered people a different path; a way that dealt with the transformation of our fears. When it came to social change and transformation, Jesus presented a new way to deal with the issues of resistance to those who oppress others. People often think that there are only two ways to respond to an offensive behavior or an unjust system: Fight or flight. You either run away from the problem or you fight the opposing side. Jesus offers us a third way. Jesus does not call for a submit-or-subdue kind of response. He invites us to a new and creative third way. This third way is about breaking the cycle of the conflict or injustice by exposing and disarming its violence. Jesus showed in the cleansing of the temple that there is always the option of resisting evil without becoming evil ourselves. Jesus was disarming the money/trade activities of the temple to disrupt the system of Roman oppression and of scapegoating. There is also in this way of thinking the possibility of the redemption and transformation of the opponent. No one has to, lose because we are all in need to redemption. The opponent can find the courage to change his/her behavior. Jesus’ third way allows room for all to be transformed.
So how does this translate into our daily life? I believe that the human patterns of scapegoating and violence can only be transformed when we choose to immerse ourselves in love and kindness instead of scapegoating and violence. When we refuse to participate in hating or vilifying the enemy, the other side, or anyone defined as the other, we allow room for God to work in and through us to heal the world. The next time, you find yourself fearing or hating the other, imagine them sitting at the table of Christ. This is not to say that we don’t disagree with others or challenge the wrongs that are committed. It is about something deeper. It is about never forgetting the image of God in them.
Desmond Tutu wrote this, “God’s gaze is like the gaze between lovers wrapped in a tender embrace. God looks at us the way a mother looks lovingly at her newborn baby. If you can see the loving gaze between mother and child in your mind’s eye, you can begin a small meditation on being held in God’s loving gaze. Once you are able to fix the gaze in your mind, put yourself in the sight line of the one gazing. Allow yourself to be the subject of that long, loving look. In this way you can imagine, then experience, the loving gaze that God turns to us. As we allow ourselves to accept God’s acceptance, we can begin to accept our own goodness and beauty. With each glimpse of our own beauty we can begin to see the goodness and beauty in others.”
For more on scapegoating, feel free to read this article by Richard Rohr: https://cac.org/jesus-reveals-lie-scapegoating-2016-10-13/
Prayer by Joyce Rupp:
Peace-Bringer, create in me a heart filled with the kind of love that reflects your own. Send this love to those I care about and respect. Open my mind to those I want to reject. Open my heart to those I prefer to avoid. Open my eyes to see beyond the surface of individuals and recognize your presence in each one. May my thoughts, words, and deeds be devoid of violence in any form. Soften whatever is hardened in my heart so that I bring your peace wherever I go. Remind me often that I, too, am in need of this love and worthy to receive it. Amen.
Here is a prayer reflection on seeing God’s image in others (The Upper Room):