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.
Over the past 20-plus years in my own faith journey, the Bible’s anthropology has taken primacy for me over its theology, providing a crucial reason for the importance of covenant to salvation. René Girard’s work proposes that what has “saved” us as a species—thus far—are the false gods of our own unconscious creation.
Lent began as a time of preparation for the covenant of baptism. The Year B Lenten readings very much ring out this theme of covenant, starting this Sunday with the covenant with Noah and its interpretation in 1 Peter as the covenant of baptism. The coming weeks feature the covenants with Abraham and with Moses and finally the covenant written upon our hearts in Jeremiah 31. Developing the theme of covenant might be an edifying way to let these Lenten scripture readings prepare congregations for Holy Week—especially the high drama of the Easter Vigil, centered on the waters of baptism.
In my younger, decidedly anti-Christian days, I did not like the way Christians asked God for mercy. It reinforced my idea that “the Christian God” was cruel and punishing. After all, if God was a loving and compassionate God, one would not have to beg for mercy. And if God was cruel and punishing but at the same time righteous and just, then human beings were clearly bad and unworthy.
This whole system of thought—shameful people and cruel God—made me want to stay far, far away from Christianity and Christian churches.
I love a good mountaintop experience. It’s a moment when everything changes. Insight flares up in the mind, illuminating the moment, the experience, the problem in a whole new way. You’re never quite the same again.
One such moment for me happened in prayer when I was on a three-day silent retreat.