Monday, April 10, 2006

The Spiritual Gift of Righteous Indignation

Jesus and the disciples went to Jerusalem. Jesus entered the Temple and began driving out those engaged in selling and buying. He overturned the money-changers' tables and the stalls of those selling doves; moreover, he would not permit anyone to carry goods through the Temple area. Then he began to teach them: “Does the scripture not say, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples’? But you have turned it into a den of thieves!” The chief priests and the religious scholars heard about this and began looking for a way to destroy him. At the same time, they were fearful because the whole crowd was under the spell of his teaching.

Tuesday in Holy Week:
“The Spiritual Gift of Righteous Indignation”

This is not the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” of Sunday School flannel boards and stained glass windows. Rather this is an outraged Jesus who has finally had it up to “here” with those in authority whose commitment to the “letter of the Law” they inherited blinded them to the Spirit of the Law Jesus incarnated. Out of patience? Jesus? Is that hard to imagine? Harder to imagine, perhaps, is that he wouldn’t have been by this point.

Abraham Heschel had this to say about patience: “Patience, a quality of holiness may be sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.” [Heschel, The Prophets] And Jesus was righteously indignant, all right! The picture that comes to my mind when I imagine this scene is Peter Finch in the movie “Network” yelling, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Jesus was NOT going to take it anymore and he made no bones about it as he went toe-to-toe with what would have been the clergy, vestry and wardens of his day.

And I love that he started where they lived – quoting the scripture they shared in common as his “opening argument” -- “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” … but you have turned it into a den of thieves! No wonder they began to plot his destruction: as one of my mentors once cautioned, “Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.” And out to get Jesus they were.

And what were his greatest crimes? Knowing their tradition as well as they did. Calling them out of their comfort zone and asking them to abandon “how we’ve always done it.” Insisting that “a house of prayer for all the peoples” meant ALL the peoples … not just the ritually clean, not just the ones with enough wealth to purchase the doves necessary for the temple sacrifice – all the peoples. Offering God’s healing grace to all people -- the lepers and outcasts, the women and the children, the Roman centurion and the Syro-Phonecian woman. Fulfilling the vision of the prophet Isaiah who spoke for Yahweh to the people of Israel, “It is not enough for you … to bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

I loved that Ed called us back to these words from the prayers in our service of Morning Prayer in his Palm Sunday sermon: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. That everyone might come. Everyone.

It was not only what he was willing to die for it was what he was willing to pitch a fit for. What got those tables tossed and those doves disturbed in this act of outrage in the Temple was the very idea that there were those who would put themselves and their rituals, their sacrifices and their “theological boundaries” between God’s grace and anyone who God created in love and calls into that saving embrace.

And the beat goes one. From my perspective the mindset operating in the Temple that Jerusalem day is still hard at work in parts of this Episcopal Church – of this Anglican Communion. It is the mindset that results in comments like this one from a post to an online discussion site: “The Episcopal Church’s current problems have little to do with sex, but everything to do with an unwillingness to maintain theological boundaries."

Maintain theological boundaries. Let’s try it on: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that we might maintain theological boundaries.

Don’t know about you but that’s not working for me. And it didn’t work for a clergy colleague of mine who offered this online response:

The Jesus I have met on my walk of faith constantly challenged theological boundaries, constantly bothered the authorities both civil and religious. He consorted with the unclean, he had women in his cohort, he denied the priority of familial relations, he violated purity codes. With the procession into Jerusalem, he upset the civil authorities and with the subsequent overturning of the temple tables he upset the religious authorities. Here a boundary, there a boundary, everywhere a boundary. I think that unwillingness to maintain boundaries may be of the essence of the faith ... at least if Jesus is to be the center of that faith.

If we’re not righteously indignant we’re not paying attention.

As we follow the life and example of Jesus may we be given the courage to challenge the civil boundaries that keep us from being a nation where liberty and justice for all really means all. And as we follow Jesus this week in the way of the cross may we also be given the grace to take up the cross of righteous indignation and take ON those religious authorities who presume to say who qualifies and who doesn’t to be gathered into God’s loving embrace. And in spite of the challenges, with the psalmist may we say, “As for me, I will always have hope, and I will add to all your praises. My lips will proclaim your deeds of justice and salvation all day long.”


Anonymous said...

Just one little nit: the saying is, "Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t really out to get you."

Other than that, Amen!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! In light of recent events my confidence was a bit shaken but you propped me back up.