Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday of the First Week in Lent

Isaiah 55:6-11 / Matthew 21:10-17

There are some people who put off exercise until they feel fit, healthy, and well. They worry that exercise while they are unfit will be too painful and that they will turn away from exercise altogether. They are, of course, foolish and self-deceived, since, having become unfit, the only way to fitness is through the disruptive discomfort of exercise until, having regained fitness, it once again becomes a joy.

There are other people who put off having children until their life is fully in order. They imagine that it would be irresponsible to have children when their finances were not absolutely secure and all their desires for freedom in their 20s and 30s fulfilled. They, too, are foolish and self-deceived, since having children just is, by its nature, disruptive of well-planned and choreographed adult activity. It is only through the disruption of raising infants and small children that one can achieve the kind of calm and fulfillment one sought in the first place by becoming a parent.

In the Gospel, Jesus is likewise disruptive in the Temple. He does not cajole. He does not engage in active listening. He does not occupy the stance of wonder in open dialogue so that he might learn from the moneychangers and sellers of doves. Rather, he casts them out, tossing tables and chairs as he does so, and calls after them with stinging words: It is written: My house shall be called a house of prayer: but you have made it a den of thieves.

Yet, it is then, not merely after the disruption, but more precisely because of the disruption, that the Temple becomes not merely free from thievery, but open to healing. No longer ringing with the cries of the merchants and the ringing of coins, it becomes filled with the joyous song of children: Hosanna to the Son of David! The Temple becomes again what it should be, a place of prayer, of healing, and of spontaneous joy at the presence of the Lord.

We might expect, or at least hope, that our transformation from lives unfit for everlasting joy to lives conformed to the Son of David will be a journey without disruption. We know, of course, that this hope will be in vain, this expectation proved unjustified. It will be not merely after, but precisely because the Lord Jesus Christ turns over the tables and chairs of our waywardness and chastises our old self that our hearts can become what they should be, a place of prayer, healing, and spontaneous joy at the presence of the Lord.

We may find ourselves, like the chief priests and the scribes moved with indignation at the disruptions Jesus brings into our lives, but this we must resist. The Lord will cleanse his Temple, and he alone will be its Lord, and before his presence belong only hearts of contemplation, hearts of charity and justice, and hearts of spiritual delight. If he cannot find this on the Temple mount, he can go as easily to Bethany. When he overturns the tables of our sinful habits, will he find welcome?

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