“Uh, excuse me, but I was hoping for the ‘meek and lowly’ Jesus!” I bet that was the thoughts of the men the day the Lord walked into a section of the outer courts of the Temple in Jerusalem and started turning over the tables and sending the “men of commerce” running. “This isn’t the Man we heard about who sits little children on His lap! What’s He so upset about?”
Well, of course, this story is so familiar to those of us who grew up hearing countless Sunday School lessons about the last days of the Lord’s earthly ministry. Our Lord Jesus goes into the Temple to the section meant for the “Gentiles” (that’s right, there was a section outside the Temple proper that was called the “Court of the Gentiles” that was meant as a place where even non-Jewish people could come and pray and learn about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and discovers it has been turned into a place where folks could change out their regular coins for the Temple currency (brilliant fundraising idea!) and where they could buy animals for sacrifice. In other words, everything BUT what the section of the Temple was suppose to do! Amazing that the ingrown blindness of God’s “chosen people” had become so profound that they forgot to leave room for the spiritually hungry souls of the “outsiders.” The arrogant blindness had so completely infected the Jewish leadership that they thought it was OK to steal a place in God’s House that was meant to reach out to “all the world” with the Good News of God’s saving work!
Look at the Gospel Lesson for today: At that time, Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words.
Of course, the disruptive scene had the leaders who had something to lose by the Lord’s actions ready to destroy Him. And they will get their chance. But, for now, we see Jesus insisting that the original intent of the House of God be restored: A House of Prayer. It always amazes me when I witness Orthodox Christians with centuries of Orthodoxy in their past miss the primary reason for their parish life. The foundational purpose of our parish life is to foster prayer. Period. Get that wrong and you throw the entire reason for the Church into question. No wonder, in this vacuum of forgotten purpose, we try to fill it with lesser purposes and we then are amazed when our children honestly believe that the primary purpose of the Church is to foster this or that identity devoid of worship and prayer. No wonder they leave. We’ve taught them that Church isn’t important enough to pay the price to participate.
The Lord’s actions in today’s lesson invite us to take a peek into the seriousness of our primary purpose as Orthodox Christians. The Lord, lovingly and purposefully, exercised His love and power in such a way that we see Him confronting in no uncertain terms people He created, people He led, and people He delivered from bondage, exile, and slavery, and people He called to make a difference in the world who had abandoned their true purpose. His actions, His words, and His forceful presence makes perfect sense. This spiritual cancer had to be removed, forcefully if necessary, if the people were to reclaim their true purpose. And God loved them too much to allow their blindness and unfaithfulness to continue unconfronted! Of course, these actions will be their primary reason those in power see no other choice but to have this Man killed, but even that didn’t thwart His plan!
Today, are you willing to do this serious examination of your heart BEFORE it comes to this confrontation point with your God? Isn’t it time to understand that the primary purpose for your parish’s existence is to pray ALOT? Isn’t it time you support your priest as he adds services, times of prayer, and worship to the normal liturgical life of a parish? Isn’t it time to rearrange your life so that you can participate at a higher level in the liturgical life of your parish, now finally knowing that the way we Orthodox produce healthy Christians is first and foremost through our liturgical life together? Isn’t it time to finally abandon all the lesser purposes for your parish and get back to the fundamental foundation for your parish to exist? Haven’t we lost enough young people to the false notion that “church” is only an occasional stop in their busy lives to keep the merest connection to an idea or culture they no longer really believe is significant? Haven’t we forgotten enough? Isn’t it time to return the “house of God” to a “house of prayer” for all nations? OK, enough rhetorical questions: Let’s get busy.
P.S. THIS SUNDAY we return to that popular subject of the Second Coming. But this time we are going to talk about what the Church teaches about the Second Coming, the Millenium, and the Final Judgement. It’s going to be a program focused on your questions, calls, and insights as well as the timeless wisdom of our Orthodox Faith and why this wisdom is meant to reorient our daily lives to be ready! Listen this Sunday to Faith Encouraged LIVE and the program “His Kingdom will have NO End” at AncientFaith.com. Invite a friend to listen with you and I look forward to taking your calls this Sunday!