During Lent, as you might expect, we have more and more folks coming to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This past Friday we had three priests hearing confessions before the daily noontime Mass. Many folks carried with them one of the various Examinations of Conscience, most are based on the 10 Commandments – something we heard about in the first reading today. I wonder if our gospel might be a better model for examining our lives especially in this Lenten season.
The gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple is riveting – or least it should be because it stands in stark contrast to our image of Jesus as gentle, soft-spoken, and compassionate. How many gospel accounts show Jesus calmly confronting the religious leaders with authoritative teaching and divine wisdom? But here, Jesus appears with his sleeves rolled up ready to mix it up. Whip in hand, he charges through the outer courts of the Temple. As it says in the Gospel: “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” Can’t you just imagine the scene: Jesus opening the cages of doves, the pens of oxen and sheep – people scattering and running for cover – and the powerful image of overturning the tables. Overturning tables – just picture that scene…
I often hear people using this passage as a justification for righteous anger. My own sense is that when you are holy as Jesus is holy, maybe, … but until then perhaps it is better to imagine yourself as one of the money changers who just had their table overturned. Imagine the firebrand Jesus coming to your table, the slightest of pauses as he looks into the depth of your life, a frozen moment as you encounter Jesus, and then – bam! – he overturns one of your tables, overturns your livelihood, overturns your relationships, your manner of going through the world, overturns those things and association and affiliations you held so dear. Jesus moves on, and you are left among the flotsam and jetsam of an overturned life.
It seems to me you have a couple of choices. You could just murmur “that guy is crazy!” and just set the table back up, just the way it was. Or, you could take a timeout and consider if there was something prophetic, holy, and true that just took place. Let’s mull over the moment. There you are in an encounter with Jesus. Laid out on several tables is your life in its fullness as person, parent, child, student, boss, worker, friend, lover, volunteer, worshipper, and all manner of things is. Jesus is at your table staring into your soul… which tables will he overturn?
Maybe the table of your friendships and relationships is fair game. You don’t want to think your friendship is for sale to the highest bidder, but you have a pattern of “trading up” to a more interesting, cooler set of friends. Or maybe the pattern is deeper. When you look closely at the contents of the table you see the coinage of idle gossip, hidden judgment, inattentiveness, and a model of “but it is really about me.” Perhaps it is much more benign: you just haven’t paid any attention to your friend and have assumed upon their good and forgiving nature. It is like a garden untended. It is time to overturn that table.
For many of you there is the table of marriage … and for my case, I can say vocation. If we look fairly, is it also a bit untended? Is so much energy going into the children that there is just not the energy and passion for each other that there once was? Are your energies directed to business, clubs, volunteering? When was your last date? Maybe it’s time to shake things up and overturn a table or two.
What about the table of family? It is always been there, we can count on each other, right? Jesus looks at the table of your family – what will He see? Does the dinner table model the Table of the Eucharist where love reigns? Is there love expressed to one another? Is there grace before the meal? Or perhaps it is more like a drive through restaurant as the family makes a pit stop before relentlessly moving off to all manner of outside activities. There is a lot going on in the family these days.
Amidst all the coming and goings of modern and complex family life, is the family the place where the virtues are modeled for one another; where the virtues are practiced. Isn’t it strange that sometimes families are the places were one forgives but doesn’t forget, where grudges linger, where mercy and compassion are not as freely given as they are outside the home.
When Jesus looks at the table of your family will he pass by or turn it over signaling the time for a new beginning? Perhaps we can take a look at what is on the table before Jesus arrives and make changes and few small repairs.
That is just some possibilities. There are others: our lives at work, play, school, church, clubs, and more. Consider what is on the table as well as what is missing from the table. Do the contents of the table reflect a Christian at work, play, school, worship, and at home? Tough stuff. Good stuff. Where to begin? Begin in prayer that you may see honestly and clearly.
This is the work of being Christian during Lent. Opening up your imagination to clearly and honestly see what lays upon the tables of your life, to be willing to overturn some tables, keep others, and be willing to add new virtues – and maybe even a whole new table. It takes prayer, it takes a willingness to embrace conversion, it takes grace. This is the work of Lent. Amen