Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Sign?


In John 2, when Jesus turns over the tables, pours out the money, and chases the animals out of the temple, he was performing a prophetic act. By that, I mean he was functioning as a prophet. Several of the prophetic texts from the Hebrew scriptures expect a prophet to come and purify the worship of God's people. Whether Jesus is rejecting the temple cult--the sacrificial system--completely is up for debate. Regardless of what Jesus thought about the nature of blood sacrifice, this action was the kind of altar-pulling-down moment that prophet-leaders like Gideon or Elijah had accomplished. But, in order to legitimate that action, the prophet would need to show the people a sign.

If someone wants to change the way we worship, she or he would need some authority. Typically, in our tradition, that authority is given to the rector, though that person had better work closely with the altar guild if proposing any radical changes. In some circumstances, a bishop or an act of General Convention could make such a change. But what if someone from the congregation stood up, interrupted the Sunday service, and declared that the way we were doing things is wrong? Wouldn't we want to know by what authority that declaration was made? If that person stood up and said, "I am the great-great-great-grandson of Samuel Roth, who gave that chalice to this parish, and he would have left the church if he ever saw us using it to serve grape juice to the Methodists," would that make us more likely to listen?

When the authorities ask Jesus for a sign, we shouldn't think less of them. Of course they want a sign. Jesus has just interrupted and threatened everything they know about worship. Is he a prophet or a nut? But Jesus' reply is enigmatic to them and revealing to us: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Of course, as John clarifies, he was speaking about the temple of his body, but I think we benefit from taking his words at face value. This isn't a taunt. It's a theological statement: if you want a sign by which Jesus' prophetic authority can be confirmed, you have to wait until the resurrection.

As Christians, we aren't following Jesus because he's a wise teacher or a godly prophet. Sure, love your enemies is a great way to live. Prioritizing justice over worship, as Crossan and Borg stress in The Last Week, makes sense. But we aren't disciples of Jesus because he has the best plan around. We follow the crucified-resurrected one. He is Lord. 

Does our worship reflect our commitment to Jesus as Lord? Is what we do in church on Sunday a reflection of that central belief? Are we reinforcing in our lives and in our world the lordship of Christ through our prayers and praise and worship? Just as the resurrection is the only measure of Jesus' authority, so, too, is it the only motive for our lives.

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