Jesus Clears the Temple by Melani Pyke

Love in Public: Lenten Reflection (36)

Scripture for Today: Mark 11:12-12:44

“And God will give the vineyard to others.” (12:9)

Although there are a few interpretations of the parable of the wicked tenants, the most widely accepted idea is that Jesus uses the landlord to illustrated God’s displeasure with the religious authorities (the tenants)  at that time.

Why is God so displeased? They weren’t doing their job.

This isn’t in the literal sense of tending to the vineyards — the religious authorities neglected the responsibility to care for the people of God. This failure to seek the welfare of the people motivates Jesus’ actions in this chapter.

Jesus is furious that, rather than make God accessible to people, the chief priests were  charging impoverished people unreasonable amounts of money to buy the required sacrifices to worship God. The even rob the most vulnerable (the widow) of all she owns. As the chiefs become wealthier, the people of God suffer more.

Jesus acts in reaction to this unjust treatment. He creates havoc in the established place of power and religion. He shuts down their racketeering business and calls out their wicked ways. And, in perhaps his most subversive act of this reading, he says that instead of profiting off of people you are called to love others as dearly as you love God. That love demands a deep identification with those around you and a commitment to their welfare. He insists that, in the words of Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

They were not loving their people.
They were not seeking justice.
They were not doing their job.

Naturally, the chief priests become angry when Jesus challenges their competency. They begin to grasp at anything that will stabilize their threatened power and wealth. They throw out every theological and legal challenge they can summon, hoping that something will discount this call to a radical and justice-oriented love.

Jesus’ unrelenting commitment to love his people eventually leads to his death. Pay attention to the depths of love he expresses and receives along the way to Golgotha. How does he demonstrate his love? How do others react to his way of love? This is more important than all else.

Pray: Give me the courage to love boldly.

Reflect: How has love motivated you to seek justice? Where do you notice resistance, either in your personal or public spheres, to such bold love?

Art: Jesus Clears the Temple by Melani Pyke

Resources: This reflection was largely inspired by this sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley of Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Lamentations 3:22 by Mark Lawrence

Do Not Decrease – Lenten Reflection (18)

Scripture for Today: Jeremiah 29:1-23, Lamentations 3

“Do not decrease.” This direction is given to the people of Israel during a time of chaos and disruption. They are in exile, ripped from their homes, and fighting for their lives. God, with the audacity that only God can have, asked them not to shirk back, not to batten up the hatches or build a wall of protection. Instead, God tells them to choose life.

Now, I cannot presume to speak for everyone, nor have I ever been thrown into exile and forced to marry my captors. But I have encountered my personal exiles when I felt far-flung from God’s reach, and those moments hardly felt like opportunities to increase. In fact, in those times decrease felt like my only option. You could find me at home hiding under the covers, watching Netflix, eating Americone Dream, and hoping that everything would go away.

God’s response to this sunken behavior might sound something like, “There you go again, committing adultery with your neighbor’s wife” (Jer 29:23).

Now, I’m not literally committing adultery — but neither were the Israelites. Rather, this phrase signifies that in a time of deep pain they turned to other comforts and solutions rather than turning to God. Jeremiah, the prophet who co-authored both Lamentations and Jeremiah, has been sent to call the people back to right-relationship with God.

Jeremiah begins by acknowledging the pain the people of Israel are facing. In Lamentations 3 he speaks profusely about the tears that are soaking their faces and the chains that are wearing them down.  They are in the darkness of death. This darkness does not mean dark-colored. Rather, it signifies obscurity: the people thought God had forsaken them. As a result, they had given up on God and pursued other sources of strength.

Through this lens, Jeremiah’s words in Lamentations 3 are especially powerful:

My soul continually thinks of it
    and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in God.”

For Jeremiah, for the people of Israel, and for us today, the only way out of exile and chaos is securing our hope in the promise that God is always with us. We must be assured that, no matter how horrible the situation appears, God has not forgotten us. In my experience, any attempts at healing that have not been grounded on God’s everlasting love have been temporary at best.

If this Lent feels like a time of exile, I wonder how Jeremiah’s call might speak to you. How might naming pain begin a process of liberation? How might we reconnect to God’s promise to be with us? How might that promise develop in us hope? And how might that hope motivate us to turn outward and seek the welfare of those around us, knowing that our liberation is bound to their liberation?

Prayer: Ground me in your unfailing love.

ReflectionWhere, in your life, do you feel a sense of exile? How might you return to  God in this time?

Art: Lamentations 3:22 by Mark Lawrence