Saturday, April 7, 2012

Alive in Us

It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2.20) 
Easter Faith

Before you go to Easter service—before you don your Easter finery and review your holiday plans—pack up your rational mind and set it aside. Logic and common sense will be of no use to you today. You’re about to have a sacred encounter of the most mysterious kind. It will require you to leap headlong into pure faith. Life as you know it will bear no resemblance to the life you’ll discover in the hymns and texts, prayers and sermons, in the electrifying proclamation that death has been defeated, justice has prevailed, and triumphant new life has burst forth from the dark bowels of a chilly tomb. None of what you hear, see, do, sing, or say will make any sense. Yet every fiber of your being will galvanize you with stubborn assurance that all of it is true.

Easter faith is unlike any other type of faith, in that its power solely resides in mystery. Every question it raises—and they are legion—resists explanation. The Gospel accounts, as well as subsequent references to Christ’s resurrection, insist we take its legitimacy at face value. Jesus died on Friday. The world went dark until early Sunday morning, when He got up and walked out of the grave. That’s it. How it happened, the changes Jesus underwent, exactly what transpired while He was dead, and every other question we may have goes unanswered. Either you believe it or you don’t. Which makes Easter faith the best kind of faith, because it expects us to stop making sense and start believing with boldness and clarity that transcend sense-making. Easter is life. That’s all there is to it. Life is. Easter is. The Easter equation worked out is 1+1 =1. Now you get what I mean when I say, “pack up your rational mind.”

Are We Alive?

Oddly enough, the Easter questions we need to consider don’t come from us. They’re put to us. And chief among them is “How do we make Easter come alive in us?” What that really asks is “Is Jesus truly alive in our lives?” Can we truthfully say, like Paul, in Galatians 2.20: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me”? Does the resurrected Christ live and move and breathe through us?

This is a question each of us can only answer for ourselves, as the living Christ we embody collectively is expressed uniquely in our individualism. Not one of us is exactly the same, which means not one of us believes, behaves, or bears witness to the Resurrection in identical ways. The common attitudes and aspirations we share as followers of Jesus are stepping-off points for each of us to bring Christ to life in us—in our daily thoughts, actions, attempts, and responses. So we must ask ourselves, when we say, “Jesus lives in me,” what does that mean? Or better yet, what do we mean? Or even better, what does that mean to you? What does that mean to me? And that raises an ever bigger, tougher, and more confounding question that Easter invites us to ponder: Are we alive? Not in the biological sense as animate organisms—but in the spiritual sense of being alive to the resurrected possibilities Jesus makes available to us. 

Using Paul’s construct, how do we transform lives we “now live in the flesh” into ones lived “by faith in the Son of God,” Who loved us and gave Himself for us? The questions Easter puts to us are much more demanding and important than any we can ever ask about it. The Resurrection’s mechanics and historical accuracy fall by the wayside very quickly. Whether we interpret the empty tomb as a reality, metaphor, myth, legend, or folk tale—whether our literal-bound, rational minds accept Easter as an actual event or they reject it as naturally inconceivable—doesn’t matter. The Christ of Easter asks something far more compelling of us, something we must answer if we’re to follow Christ’s way. Are we alive? And in our living, do we bring life to those no longer alive—to people who’ve settled for survival rather than knowing the joy of life?

The Most Important Easter Question

Easter reverses death’s terrifying tide and launches Christ’s promise of everyday resurrection into a dying world. One need not be a theologian or Bible scholar to recognize Jesus’s central message is life. Jesus promises the woman at the well “living water.” (John 4.10) In John 6, He calls Himself “the Bread of Life,” and in the next chapter, He declares, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (7.38) In John 10.10, He says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” All of Jesus’s teachings point to life. They instruct us how to love one another so that we’re not infected with hatred, resentment, anger, and so many other deadly diseases. They retrain our responses to threat, conflict, and confusion to ensure new life will grow out of despair. They enlighten our awareness of what’s truly vital so that we don’t succumb to life-defeating temptations and desires. The entire corpus of Jesus’s lessons and the power He exemplified come together in the dazzling display of life that we call Easter. This is life unlike any ever known—life that refutes death’s fears and disproves its formulas once and for all. Easter is life. Easter is. Life is. 1+1=1.

So in the midst of our rejoicing that Jesus would not submit to death, let us answer the questions Easter puts to us by doing the same. Let our resurrection anthems be manifestoes of defiance that echo Psalm 118.17: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.” Let our questions about the Resurrection give way to bold certainty that Jesus lives in us. John 1.3-4 tells us, “What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Out of humiliating death, triumphant life. Out of entombed darkness, vibrant light. From One to all. Our rational minds will never get it. But every fiber in our being knows it to be true. Jesus is alive in us. It’s a truth of such overpowering magnitude that it raises the most important Easter question of all: How do we live with that?

Easter reverses death’s terrifying tide and launches Christ’s promise of everyday resurrection into a dying world.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Repost: Stripes

He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53.5; NKJV)

 The Back Story

When we look at Jesus on the cross, what do we see? The brow mockingly crowned with thorns. The beard that is every Jewish man’s glory savagely plucked and matted with blood. Dried saliva and parched lips evidence dire thirst. We see hands and feet affixed to this torturous altar by iron spikes. His arms and legs convulse with spasms caused by the strain of supporting all of His weight. His torso is swollen and bruised from sadistic pummeling with rods. His chest heaves beneath the suffocating pressure of mid-air suspension. Blood and viscera ooze from an open stab wound in His side meant to finish Him off. And, as the day wears on, the blistering sun scorches every inch of flesh on His body. It’s a heartbreaking, hideous sight.

Circling behind the cross to observe the back story, what we see is equally gruesome. Lashes from leather whips strung with shards of metal and bone have flayed Jesus’s back into a shredded curtain, exposing His muscles, sinew, shoulders, and ribs to the fetid air, heat, and scores of flies nesting the wounds with freshly laid eggs. If we’re able to stomach looking at such horror at length, we can count the stripes hashed across His back—39 in all, one short of 40 prescribed for whipping executions. We’re stunned to realize before the cross was thrust on His shoulders, before the hammer struck the first nail, before the spear pierced His side, Jesus was beaten within inches of His life. Then, remembering Isaiah’s prophecies, we realize He endured each aspect of His suffering for a specific purpose, including His stripes.

Passion’s Elements

Isaiah 53.5 breaks down the Passion’s elements like this: He was wounded for our transgressions. When we transgress, we expose wrongful motives and desires by actively pursuing habits and pleasures that cause piercing pain and leave scars. “The soul who sins is the one who will die,” Ezekiel 18.4 says. Sin is lethal. It leeches the life out of us, just as Jesus bled to death through His open wounds.

He was bruised for our iniquities. Harmful attitudes and emotions buried beneath the surface discolor our appearance when we’re buffeted by hostility. Resisting these impulses doesn’t mitigate the internal injuries they bring. Clotted hatred and resentment interrupt the flow of God’s love and forgiveness. They mar His reflection. This is why passive iniquity and active transgression equally displease God, why seeing Jesus covered in bruises causes Him to look away, and why the psalmist writes, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66.18)

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him. The burden of humanity’s sin falls on Christ’s shoulder to restore our relationship with God. His punishment ends the war between our will and God’s purpose. It frees us from what we think to trust His mercy and grace. Romans 5.1 says this: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We’re Healed

And by His stripes we are healed. The lashes driving Jesus to death’s precipice represent the most extreme physical, mental, and emotional pain a human can survive. In a few hours, Jesus suffers more affliction and abuse than the vast majority of us experience in a lifetime. The blinding agony—the undeserved brutality—of the first stripe isn’t absorbed before the next lash tears into Him. Wave after wave thrashes Him, emptying Him of strength, crushing Him with confusion. Yet He endures, because dying beneath the whip will defeat the promise of healing. And here’s something very telling about Jesus’s stripes. After His resurrection, Jesus authenticates His identity by brandishing the nail-prints in His hands and hole in His side. Yet not once in any account does He point to the whip-scars across His back. Were they there? Scripture doesn’t say. But it’s not illogical to believe they were gone—that Christ Himself was the first to experience the healing they deliver.

Because the stripes were real, healing is real. Because Jesus suffered and recovered, we can also recover. Throughout Christ’s ministry, He performed healing miracles at the touch of His hand. Still, not every sick person who sought healing was fortunate enough to feel His touch. His stripes now make healing available to all. Unlike miracles, healing is a process, a gradual restoration of health and resurgence of strength. And, as in Jesus’s case, it often reverses suffering by way of the tomb, plunging us into darkness to rise again in new life and health, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Yet throughout our tomb experience, we believe life’s power works in us. We believe the prophet. By His stripes, we’re healed.

Healing is available through the whipping Christ survived for our recovery. 
(Troy David: The Whipping of Christ)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Repost: Willing Spirits, Weak Bodies

Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26.41)

The Last Word

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” surely sits in the Top 10 Jesus quotes. It’s said so widely and often it’s been diluted into a sighing apology that usually means, “I want to say yes, but I’m too tired.” When we revisit the circumstances prompting Christ’s remark, we’re liable to be shocked and ashamed at how casually we toss it around. Jesus says it at a time and place that lends it poignant gravity. But while the situation removes all doubt about its profundity, it also shrouds the statement in ambiguity about whom Jesus is talking to. It initially sounds directed to the disciples. Yet as we read on, it’s quite possible Jesus is speaking to Himself. If we re-read the entire passage, it’s sensible to assume He addresses the disciples’ error and His internal turmoil simultaneously.

Matthew records this as the last word Jesus speaks exclusively to His disciples as a mortal. They’ve left the Last Supper to pray in Gethsemane. Over dinner, Jesus has told them He’ll soon leave them and when they arrive at the garden, He distances Himself to pray secretly. He falls facedown and agonizes with God about His imminent suffering, asking to be spared and then submitting to God’s will. He appears to reach a point of acceptance, because He returns to rejoin the disciples—who are supposed to be praying with Him—and finds them sleeping. He chides Peter for not keeping them awake. Then He says, “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26.41) Knowing Peter will yield to temptation twice before the night ends, we automatically assume the Lord’s statement is aimed directly at him. But that may not be the whole of it. After Jesus says this, He turns back to pray a second time, repeating His first prayer: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (v42; NIV)

Weakness on Both Sides

The admonition to withstand temptation with vigilance and prayer—overcoming physical fear and frailty that hinder spiritual trust and resolve—bridges the disciples’ carelessness with Jesus’s wariness. It confesses human weakness on both sides. The disciples are exhausted in body and mind. It’s been an unusually grueling week and they’ve spent the past few hours grappling with ominous news. No doubt they have every intention of praying with Jesus. But it’s late, they’re not quite sure how they should pray, and their Master has left them alone. Without Jesus to lead them, fatigue trumps their faith. On the other hand, being privy to the torture awaiting Him, Jesus’s body quakes with dread, urging Him to plead for a stay of execution. His Spirit is willing to see this through, yet His body is weak and reluctant. We find our lesson in the contrast between the disciples’ response to Christ’s warning, what He does, and how He and Peter handle themselves as the evening progresses.

Following His second prayer, Jesus finds the disciples have fallen back to sleep. He doesn’t wake them again, but goes back to pray the same prayer a third time. After that, He rouses them as Judas and his co-conspirators approach. Jesus puts up no resistance to His arrest. He sees His enemies coming and having prayed three times without any indication His fate can be avoided, His Spirit’s willingness to obey takes precedence over His natural impulse to escape. Jesus faces His fears. Failing to discipline His physical compulsions, Peter’s caught off-guard. He attacks Christ’s enemies and, later, cowers in fear of being associated with Jesus. His body’s weakness undermines his spirit’s willingness.

Willing and Willful

Our spirits are willing. Our bodies are willful. One guides us to please our Maker. The other drives us to satisfy our urges. The spirit and body engage in constant conflict, the former leading us to do what’s best in the long run and the latter pressing for instant gratification. It’s like dieting. When an enticing yet fattening treat is placed before us, we’re presented with a choice: eat now and pay later or sacrifice now and profit later. Choosing between our spirits and bodies is no different. Each choice boils down to this question: whose example will we follow, Christ’s or Peter’s?

When we follow Jesus, we’re watchful against reacting angrily and fearfully when confronted. We stay prayerful, continuously in contact with our Father, Who strengthens our resolve. When we follow Peter, we’re taken by surprise. We’re not watching for temptations and praying for strength. We lose emotional and physical control. Our bodies’ willfulness to survive overwhelms our spirits’ willingness to sacrifice. Willfulness is weakness, while willingness exerts true strength. If we desire to defeat temptation, we must watch and pray. Sleep can wait. Self-gratification can be denied. Weakness can be overpowered. It’s in our spirits to will it so.

 We follow one of two examples when dealing with temptation: Christ’s or Peter’s.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How High Minds Fall

Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. (John 13.29)

The Great Big Middle

This past Monday I joined over 1000 Chicagoans for CROSSwalk, a solemn, four-mile procession that mourned the loss of our city's youth to gun violence. We wore paper bibs that read, “632”—the number of minors killed on our streets since 2008—“more than we can bear.” In the time needed to produce the bibs, the number went up, as several more youngsters met with untimely death. The procession stuck to the sidewalks, where most of these inexcusable murders occur, where safety must be restored. It stopped at several points for prayer and remembrance before concluding at Stroger Hospital, where many of the city’s young gunshot victims are pronounced dead. The hospital’s imposing edifice reminded me of a tomb that was anything but empty. While we pledged to defeat this menace, inside its walls wounded teens and children were fighting for their lives.

The Right Reverend Jeffrey Lee, Episcopal Bishop of Chicago, closed the event with a quote from Martin Luther: “Pray like everything depends on God; work like everything depends on you.” It summed up the unspoken dilemma resting heavily on our hearts: how do we transform our sorrow and outrage into meaningful action? Yet throughout the walk, we were repeatedly told to “listen to what the Spirit is telling God’s people,” and the message rising in our spirits told us, “I’ll be with you to help you figure this out. You can do it.” I sensed none of the jittery impatience that often infects closing rallies at these kinds of events. The urgency to act was swaddled in calm assurance that, step-by-step, with God’s help, we can and will reverse this cruel tide of destruction and grief. Our commitment surpasses rushing to stop violence; we’re determined to eliminate it. That will take time.

Impatience is the natural-born enemy of kingdom work. All but a very few of Jesus’s parables—His lessons about restoring God’s kingdom on earth—involve patience. Seeds must have time to sprout; fruit and grain must ripen; investments must mature; lost children and sheep and coins must be found. In nearly every story, there is that great big middle where meticulous attention to growth must happen. The great big middle where we work and wait, where everything depends on God and us. The great big middle where we learn that time is on our side, offering a chance to tend to details that ensure bountiful harvests and lasting results. The great big middle is such a standard fixture in Jesus’s teaching that we wonder how Judas misses it. But he does. And that surprises us, as he’s the detail guy who keeps the books and manages the money. It’s his job to maintain what's needed to do the work of the great big middle.


For obvious reasons, the Gospels downplay Judas’s role in Jesus’s ministry. Prior to his betrayal of Jesus, Matthew, Mark, and Luke only mention him in passing as a disciple. They give his full name, Judas Iscariot, and note him as “the traitor.” John foreshadows his treachery by identifying him as the disciple who protests after a woman anoints Jesus with costly perfume that might have been sold to provide for the poor. We’re not really sure what John’s up to with this. Judas’s complaint at first casts him as a misguided activist. But then John discredits him by saying Judas wanted to bank the money because he skimmed from the coffers. That’s hard to swallow, though, since it seems unlikely he’d be given charge of “the common purse” if he were suspected of thievery. So there’s probably some revisionist shading in John’s accusation.

More reliable clues about Judas’s character surface in his surname, and even then, scholars aren’t sure what it means. Some speculate that “Iscariot” refers to a Judean town of no notoriety, while others believe it refers to the Sicarii, a group of Jewish assassins bent on overthrowing Roman rule. Still others theorize the writers assign “Iscariot” after the fact, alluding to Hebrew words that mean “the false one” or “choked” in reference to his suicide by hanging.

Perhaps the clearest window into Judas’s soul opens during the Last Supper when Jesus tells him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” (John 13.27) Quickly. The adverb misleads the other disciples to think Jesus is sending Judas on an errand—possibly to buy supplies to celebrate Passover (which begins the next day) or to donate some of their funds to the poor. In retrospect, of course, we know Judas has jumped sides in collusion with those who want to destroy Jesus. His impatience to see change he longs for (whatever that may be) burdens him with a false sense of urgency. Feeling stuck in the great big middle, forced to work and wait for lasting change, doesn’t suit him. His eagerness to speed progress along urges him to switch loyalties. Realizing He’s lost Judas, Jesus tells him, “Do whatever you need to do, and be quick about it.” Jesus has lost patience with Judas’s impatience. Jesus might have warned, “Rushing to judgment breeds injustice. Your plan is doomed to backfire.” Which is what happens. Both will be dead in 24 hours’ time. Only one will rise again.

High-Minded and Shortsighted

Succumbing to impatience with the great big middle is how high minds fall. The compulsion to make something happen soon distracts them from tedious tasks required to get the job done. Everything becomes expendable—ideals, people, loyalties, and even purpose—when the ends justifies the means. And when “any means necessary” becomes the justification for hasty, imprudent actions, we invite chaos and failure to the party.

We talk a lot of big stuff around here: truing our lives to Christ’s example and teachings, loving God and others without restraint, living by faith and not by sight, combatting Christian exclusion, striving for social justice and equality, eradicating violence and abuse, and on down the list of daunting challenges that come part and parcel with life in God’s kingdom. Every personal and social change we seek can’t come quick enough. Every step we make toward progress presses us to move quicker, to put less effort in the tedious necessities and more into giant leaps. We become high-minded and shortsighted and we fall. If, as some suggest, Judas was set on overthrowing Roman oppression, it clouded his understanding that Christ came to accomplish something far greater and more enduring. Jesus had no use for uprooting a regime. He came to plant the seeds of God’s kingdom in the hearts and minds of every human—a kingdom that would grow if carefully, patiently tended. The mission that plays out in His trial, execution, and resurrection is one of reconciliation and redemption, not revenge and replacement.

Faithfulness is lived in the great big middle, where we keep our heads down and do the hard work of God’s kingdom. Is that not Lent’s great lesson? Is it not epitomized in the agony of the cross? Is it not witnessed in the stalwart women who arise early in the morning to tend to Jesus’s grave? Judas teaches us where rushing to judgment and other acts of impatience lead. In our eagerness to reach the empty tomb, let us never forget that the road beyond it is long and difficult, that the work it calls us to do is tedious and time-consuming. There are miles of great big middle that we must travel—as individuals and the Body of Christ—to make good on Calvary’s promise of redemption and Easter’s restoration of life.

While we can’t say with certainty what Judas’s motives were for betraying Jesus, we can all relate to his impatience to act on his compulsions. His high-mindedness leads to shortsightedness and he falls.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Faithful Acts of Hatred

He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill Him; for they were afraid of Him. (Mark 11.17-18)

The Things Jesus Hated

A couple weeks ago, our pastor came across a 1950 directory from our congregation and shared some of its contents with us. From a paragraph called “The Meaning of Church Membership” she read these words:

To be a worthy church member, one must have the temper and disposition of Jesus, taking His attitude toward God and man, looking at life from His standpoint, hating the things which He hated, loving the things which He loved, and doing in cooperation with others the kind of things which He did.

Hating the things which He hated? We’re not the kind of church that ascribes hatred of any kind to Jesus. God is love. Jesus is God. Ergo, Jesus is love. Yet in this context, paired with “loving the things which He loved,” I was struck with a new awareness that Jesus truly did hate many things about our world. Prejudice, false piety, selfishness, violence, callousness, political ambition, deceit, resentment—all of the things that destroy love for God and one another—He despised. He made no room for ambivalence about them. He hated them. What's more, He wasn’t reluctant to say so, regardless how difficult expressing His hatred made His own life.

In fact, as we retrace His steps through Holy Week, we’re initially stunned by what can only be described as conscious acts of hatred from Jesus. In the wake of the Triumphal Entry, we see Him return to Jerusalem on Monday morning, not to bask in the upsurge of adulation, but to express overt hostility toward the religious and political corruption of His day. His audacity and disregard for His popularity, which is at its peak, are breathtaking. And while three of the four Gospels report Monday’s main event—the clearing of the Temple merchants—Mark and Matthew couple it with a rather bizarre incident that shocks us, as it seems completely out of character for Jesus.

On Their Side

The Palm Sunday story ends with a cliffhanger. After the crowd’s enthusiastic hosannas die down, Jesus walks into the Temple, looks around for a moment, and leaves. All that’s missing from the scene is “I’ll be back.” Sure enough, come Monday morning, Jesus’s first order of business is returning to the Temple. He doesn’t even wait for breakfast. As soon as He can get the disciples together, He heads back into Jerusalem—having spent the night in an outlying village—and along the way, He gets hungry. He sees a tree and decides to make do with one of its figs. But the tree is barren because figs aren’t in season. Jesus knows that, which makes His response to not finding fruit curiously upsetting. He curses the tree! “May no one ever eat fruit from you again,” He hisses—so loudly that the disciples hear Him. (Mark 11.14) What’s the problem here? Is Jesus in a bad mood? Is He overtired and impatient? Perhaps. He’s coming off an exhausting day and anticipating an even tougher one, given what He plans to do in Jerusalem. Still, His reaction seems weirdly out of scale.

The Temple is humming by the time Jesus arrives. It’s Passover week and many provincials have turned up early to attend to various sacrifices and offerings before the feast. In the courtyard, moneychangers and livestock traders are open for business, which is booming. As Jesus enters the Temple, He’s keenly aware of stepping into a seller’s market. It’s the ancient equivalent of a modern theme park, where out-of-towners pay ridiculous prices for things that would cost a fraction of the money at home. Jesus hates what’s going on. He goes on a rampage, overturning the moneychanger’s tables and livestock traders’ chairs. Then, in a stunning display of authority, He shuts everything down. Verse 16 says, “He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” You bet everyone who doesn’t yet know Who He is wants to find out what He’s all about. Jesus begins to teach right there on the spot, knitting prophecies from Isaiah and Jeremiah together as He indicts the price-gougers: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (v17) Mark says when the Temple establishment hears this, it stokes their determination to kill Jesus. They’re afraid of Jesus, we’re told, because His hatred of those who exploit the worshipers resonates with the crowd. Jesus is on their side and He’s unconcerned about what may happen to Him for standing with them. His deep hatred of evildoing gives Him power to confront it head-on.

New Wholeness and Holiness

So we understand Jesus’s actions in the Temple—and we understand how they seal His fate, which will play out in agonizing extremes on Friday morning. Now, what about the fig tree? On Tuesday morning, returning again to the city, Peter notices that it’s shriveled down to its roots. It’s not dead. But it will need to be revived before it can yield fruit. When Peter points out the tree, Jesus explains the situation by saying that faith’s power is double-edged. It can build things up and make things grow. It can likewise cause things to crumble and wither away. “Truly I tell you,” He says in verse 23, “if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.”

This mountain—the Mount of Olives, which they’re descending to reach Jerusalem—is a holy place. According to the prophets, it’s the site where the Messiah will first appear and His appearance will split the mountain wide open. (Zechariah 14.4) Jesus is saying that nothing is ever so sacred—or sacrosanct—that it’s immune to being dismantled and remade. A barren tree can be reduced to its roots to regrow and yield new fruit. A holy hill can be torn asunder and thrown into the sea to make way for a New Order. A Temple defiled by exploitation of captive believers can be cleansed and reestablished as the house of prayer that God ordained it to be. Jesus tells us when we couple hatred of what we know is unhealthy and displeasing to God with faith that it can be replaced with something better, what we say will come to pass. Faithful acts of hatred spring forth in new life and new growth—new wholeness and holiness.

As believers, we are called to hate the things that Jesus hated. But our calling doesn’t stop there. Jesus teaches us to speak to those things, to act against them—and to pay no regard for the consequences that may befall us. We are called to decry and oppose poverty, prejudice, exploitation, violence, hypocrisy, and every other ill that defiles God’s creation. Love that ignores harm or tolerates indifference is harmful and indifferent. It’s no love at all. The world’s evils justify our hatred and the actions we take to dismantle them. As we will learn next Sunday, destructive hatred will never defeat its righteous counterpart. Why? Because hating the things that Jesus hated is an act of love. And love always wins.

In cleansing the Temple, Jesus teaches us that evil merits our hatred—and nothing is so sacred or sacrosanct that it can’t be dismantled and replaced by new life, new growth, new wholeness and holiness.

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