“Fair Crack of the whip”
Have you ever been part of breaking the protocols or rules of the day? That’s a bit of a silly question because we are Australians and that’s part of our DNA.
But what if breaking these protocols, or these ways of doing things need changing? When you are the few against the majority it can be very difficult, if not downright dangerous.
In the American civil war, a complex war but essentially characterized about North Vs. South. The North that did not have slavery against the South that did. The General of the south Robert E. Lee was attending church. Upon getting up from his pew to take Holy Communion, he noticed that a slave who had started to get up, noticed him and sat back down. On his way past him, he put his hand on his shoulder and said “come up with me, before God we are all equal”.
That may not sound that daunting until we reflect that segregation based on the color of a person’s skin was still a problem for President John F Kennedy in the 60’s.
These two men took enormous risks, both politically and physically-because they challenged and broke the rules of the day.
In our Gospel today, we see Jesus breaking a cultural, religious and social way of doing things in his times.
Last week I mentioned a quote from the movie Jerry Maguire. This week another one from it comes to mind (I have actually watched more than one movie in my life). Jerry is working for this organization and in a moment of “inspiration”, writes a memo to the bosses and every employee stating everything that’s wrong in their workplace.
The next day, everyone’s slapping his back saying ÿer Jerry, great stuff”, then as he walks off they say to each other “gone by Friday”.
Jesus in his words and actions in today’s Gospel puts it all on the line. Seen later when the authorities use these actions and words against him in his trial to be sentenced to crucifixion.
Starting at verse 13: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables”.
Jesus is brandishing a whip. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane when the guards come to arrest Jesus, Peter cuts off one of their ears with a sword to protect Jesus, in which Jesus tells him “to put his sword away”.
But here, Jesus has the whip out-he is not a happy man.
(and) to our ears, animals, doves and money changers-it seems a bit of a rabble-so it seems fair enough that Jesus has taken exception to all this-apart for one small matter-celebrating the Passover is, as recorded in Leviticus, as per God’s command.
Leviticus 23:4 “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy celebrations which you shall proclaim..On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover…and you shall bring offerings..”
To understand why the Passover is such a big deal to the Jews, Jesus and indeed God himself we need to know the background.
To do so we go back to the book of Exodus.
God has enlisted Moses to be the middle man- to bring about the release of the Israelites who are captives-slaves in Egypt.
In short, Moses’ request for their release is declined by the Pharaoh. Then, in an effort to have the Pharaoh change his mind-God brings plaques upon the Egyptians. Our modern equivalent would be like our trade sanctions against rebel countries that won’t toe the line.
Firstly the rivers are turned to blood, so that it cannot be drank and the fish die. Then the place is overrun with frogs, then lice, flies, the livestock die, everyone gets painful boils, huge hail stones that kill everything not under cover, locusts and then pitch darkness for three days.
But after these nine plaques, the Pharaoh remains resolute. So God unleashes His piece of résistance. God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that on the first month of the year on the tenth day, each household shall take an unblemished lamb and keep it until the fourteenth day, then they will kill and eat all of it with unleavened bread and put its blood on the doorposts of their houses.
Because that night: and let’s hear it from God himself: Exodus chapter 12, verse 12 “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both person and beast; and against all the God’s of Egypt I will execute judgment. Now the blood on your door frames shall be a sign. And when I see the blood, I will Passover you; and the plague shall not be on you”. God continues, “This day shall be to you a memorial: and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance”.
As God had predicted, aftera tragedy of these proportions for the Egyptians-every family losing their firstborn-including the Pharaoh-the Israelites were not just released-the Pharaoh drove them out-enough was enough-no more.
The Israelites were released-free, and as commanded by God-every year in the temple the Passover was commemorated. That’s why it was such a big deal. So important that from all over Israel the people would journey to the temple in Jerusalem to make sacrifice’s like in the initial Passover.
Again, we have to understand the times; Israel in comparison to Australia is a small country, but not small when your Landcruiser is a donkey or just your two feet. Just getting to Jerusalem was a huge feat, or at least their feet probably were time they got there. So, they didn’t bring their animal sacrifices with them, they bought them when they got there.
What of the money changers? Again we must consider the times. These people from different locations traded in different currencies. So they would go to the money changers and exchange their currencies for the local currency, so they could purchase their sacrifices.
Just like if we went to England, we trade our Aussie Dollars for pounds.
So there’s a 101 of the Passover history, and the goings on all seem to make sense. Yet Jesus brings out the whip.
In Australian, when we get told off for what we think is not wrong-we may use the term “fair crack of the whip”.
But we see, indeed literally-it was a fair crack of the whip.
Because upon Jesus entering the house of God, not outside it, but in it he sees a market place. People not just undertaking commercial enterprises-which is bad enough, but also profiteering-ripping off people who come to worship.
He sees people and their actions getting in the way of true devotional worship-getting in the way between God and His people.
Fast forward two thousand years-to today’s times. As yet, thankfully I have never attended a church full of sheep, goats or doves about to be sacrificed.
Thankfully because they are no longer needed. Our unblemished lamb of sacrifice is Jesus himself.
Jesus is our Passover. In Jesus-our sins are passed over and we are free of them-released from their captivity.
We don’t come to church to bring-we come to church to receive. We don’t take to worship, we take from worship.
There’s a lovely article in this month’s Lutheran, and I quote:
“One morning I was all hot and bothered because the old people at the church had trampled all over my brilliant idea. Why are they so boring? Why aren’t they passionate about their faith? I railed at Miss Perry. Why don’t they ever do anything? Why do they think that being a Christian is just warming a pew on Sunday mornings? Ever so quietly, Miss Perry said, Linda, are you sure you will still be warming a pew when you’re their age? By then you’ll have experienced much heartache and disappointment, with people and with God. Are you sure you’ll be as strong in your faith then as you are now”.
Miss Perry has nailed it. Not because she told this young girl that enthusiasm is not good, because she didn’t. Of course we should always look at ways to connect with each other and the people around us. Always look at ways that might help bring and strengthen people’s, and our relationship with God. It’s an absolute yes to that.
But she has nailed two things-One: How our lives can be tough-it’s not just all smooth sailing, and our faith will be tested, and Two: to get through these times with our faith and trust in God intact can be quite a miracle. The miracle’s we receive in worship. Hearing the Word of God, absolution and forgiveness, Baptism and Holy Communion. Word and Sacrament is where God gives his life strengthening miracles to us.
Word and Sacrament-To the world, what these bring seem ridiculous. Even parts of the Christian church ridicule the truth by questioning and denying scripture and its teachings and promises.
These assaults on the Word of God and divine worship are from the same brush that Jesus encountered at the Passover.
As I said, the church must always look at ways of connecting, of connecting so people will come to know God. But the Church must also stand up for the truth. Stand for something or stand for nothing at all.
In the book of Revelations we are given an account of seven churches-their positives and their negatives, except for the one titled the lukewarm church. Chapter 3, verse 15: Ï know of your works, that are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth”.
Harsh words. Lukewarm, could this be like receiving the grace of God, his gifts we receive in worship in a “maybe they’ll help” manner.
In worship we hear and receive the Gospel. In Word and Sacrament we are given strength to believe, to be given faith and for our faith to be strengthened.
Faith like that of General Robert E Lee, essentially fighting for slavery and a slave-that both approached our Lord and Savior as equals. Equals that deserve crumbs yet receive a banquet.
Today, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins and strengthened your faith. It’s a gift and a miracle beyond our understanding. In Christ alone, we are saved.
Martin Luther was prepared to die for that belief, Jesus Christ died for it to be truth. And we live because it is the truth. Amen.