In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of dark and light—one of our most primary realities and symbols. How can this be vivid language today, when we can turn the switch and flood almost any place with light any time?
It’s hard to deny these little echoes of the synoptics which John reshapes for his own dramatic purposes. It seems narratively wrong for Jesus to cleanse the temple at the beginning of his ministry rather than at the climactic end. It makes more sense if one hears Luke in the background ever so slightly—Jesus’ claiming of the temple as his father’s house and his identity as the Son. Here in John, he has just performed a miracle at his mother’s behest, bringing spirit into the most fleshly event of human life. Now he goes to what is supposedly a spiritual place and finds only flesh. No wonder he is annoyed.
When I was growing up in a Lutheran parsonage on the prairies of North Dakota, our congregation hosted mission festivals during Epiphany. One week our family entertained two missionaries: a missionary to Japan who’d been born in China to Lutheran missionaries but then forced out by the communists, and a missionary who’d worked in Taiwan after the closing of the bamboo curtain.
For sermon-prep help, I frequently look at hymns, paintings, novels, poems, etc. Also Bach cantatas. Meinen Jesus laß ich nicht, written for the first Sunday after Epiphany, has intrigued me with its interpretation of Luke 2:41-52.
I love this story about Jesus and his parents and am astonished by the author’s deep understanding of the human condition. Mary and Joseph were facing the adolescent years with a most unusual child, and yet we have only this one glimpse in scripture of that time in their lives.
If you are ever invited to a gala event where a constitutional monarch is present, you will be told to wear a dark suit or a formal dress—no pants suits for women, no leisure suits for men. Apparently the poor guy in the parable of the wedding banquet didn’t read the small print on his invitation.
Jesus tells the story of the owner of the vineyard to show that his listeners, members of the religious establishment of his time, have missed the point. The story is breathtakingly clear. Those who “get it” have to do away with him. They mock him, deride him and finally kill him.
Who has given Jesus the power to cleanse the temple? Because it’s hard for us to understand life in Jesus’ time, it’s also hard to understand just how fundamental his attack on the moneysellers is. By forgiving sins, Jesus is blasting away at the religious leaders of the day, members of the priestly class.
When I was a kid growing up in the Willamette Valley, local teenagers and migrant laborers would go out together into the strawberry fields to help with the harvest. This parable, with its setting in the vineyard, describes the emotions of us workers—we wanted a fair wage for a fair day’s work.