Like long-distance swimmers, those of us who count our Sundays by the rhythm of the lectionary need to occasionally pop our heads out of the water and get our bearings. We know the month, the day and the liturgical date. We may also know where we are in our congregational programming, especially with regard to the season of harvest and stewardship. But where are we textually?
Amos was one prophet who knew how to afflict the comfortable. He seemed to have it in for those who had done all right for themselves. His theological motto could well have been: If it feels good, God doesn’t like it! Amos skips from warning to judgment to condemnation with a kind of zealous glee. Thus says the Lord, “You’re all going to Sheeeoooool!” What a downer.
If you are reading this column hoping to get some insight into Mark 9:49-50, you can stop now. These verses are intensely obscure; the commentaries offer little help; neither I nor anyone I know has received a special revelation explaining the text. Let us simply agree to move on to other matters. By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has started to speak openly about his impending death.
A missionary friend was scheduled to speak about his mission work at a distant church. He got up before daybreak that Sunday morning and drove 300 miles, preached at two services and spent the afternoon speaking with members of the congregation. As he was leaving that evening, the treasurer of the church gave him an envelope, which he tucked in his pocket for the ride home. It was very late when he returned home. As he undressed, he remembered the envelope. He turned on the light in the bathroom and opened it. Out fell a check with his name written on it in bold letters. Under his name were the words: A million thanks! It was signed by the treasurer.
Next to the window in my study, where I can’t but see it every day, there’s a framed cartoon from an old edition of the National Lampoon. It’s a spoof of a Medici rose window from the cathedral in Florence, and depicts a laughing camel leaping with ease through the eye of a needle. The superscription reads: “a recurring motif in works commissioned by the wealthier patrons of Renaissance religious art,” while the Latin inscription on the window itself is “Dives Vincet,”or “Wealth Wins!”
We watched in horror as both towers lit up, then fell into a cloud of smoke and ash. Then we gathered in the chapel with hundreds who came to pray. I asked the people to name the folks in their hearts and their concern as our prayer before God. The chapel rang with the precious names of loved ones.
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.
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