A devotional message from Mindekirken for the Easter season
“We cannot let cultural traditions, old habits, and human inventions stop us from fighting for justice.”
ANNE BRIT AASLAND
During the season of Lent, the story of the cleansing of the temple is heard in churches around the world. As the Passover neared, Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and threw out the merchants. But what does this story mean for Christians and all people today? Pastor Anne Brit Aasland of Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Minneapolis, offers her commentary, with a message filled with social relevance and the spirit of life and hope.
I like to talk about the gentle, loving, good Jesus, the one who stands there with his arms outstretched, welcoming us. No matter what we have done and what has happened, he is there for us, like a good mother and a caring father. Jesus is the image of God; he shows us who and what God is like.
But what we read in the Gospels about the cleansing of the temple gives us a different picture of Jesus.
All those who were selling goods in the temple square had a good reason for what they were doing. Money from the Roman Empire bore the image of the emperor, and therefore, it had to be exchanged for usable Israeli coins, if someone wanted to buy something. And it was logical that people who came from far away would not have to bring cattle, sheep, and doves the long way to the temple to sacrifice during the Passover, and it was easier to buy them in the temple square. But all of this created a lot of noise and commotion, making silent devotional prayer difficult.
We cannot just blame Jesus for being stressed or angry! Jesus is telling us something important here, even though he does it in a frightening way. All the Gospels have a story about Jesus being upset about what happened in the temple square. In the Gospel of Matthew, this happens after Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey and children and adults shouted: “Hosanna, David’s son! Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Lord.” And it goes on to say that just after Jesus had chased away all those who sold goods and animals and they who had exchanged money, the blind and lame came to him, and he healed them.
Jesus broke many codes and traditions that had developed for how people should behave in the temple square: Imagine behaving like this toward those who wanted to help people by selling what they needed! And the lame and the blind did not even have access to the temple, but it says that Jesus received them! And children were not allowed to sing there, but Matthew says that the children sang hosanna—and this went completely against correct behavior.
Jesus shows that everyone—absolutely everyone—should be welcome in the sanctuary, and trade must take place in the marketplace and not in the house of God. In the Gospel of John, this happened at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, after Jesus made water into wine at a wedding. Jesus went against many traditions and broke human commandments to show who he was and how he came to help humankind.
The Jews wanted to know what right he had to do this, and that is when he said: “Tear down the temple, and I will rebuild it in three days!” They took it quite literally and began to argue logically that it was impossible, but it was also inconceivable that Jesus could rise from the dead!
Jesus distinguishes between God’s commandments and culture, traditions and human commandments, and he helps us to resist the temptations to just follow human commandments and not God’s will. He tells us that we cannot let cultural traditions, old habits, and human inventions stop us from fighting for justice.
Jesus was angry; he was not only gentle and sweet and kind! And in the same way, sometimes we must also get angry, sometimes we must also put an end to what people are doing wrong, sometimes we must do as Jesus: We must expose and stop those who abuse God’s name and God’s word to gain power over others or earn riches at the expense of others. Sometimes someone has to use force and put people in jail. We must defend our children and the weak in society. All people have equal value.
We must have a non-racist police force and a just judiciary system that prevent and fight against violence and oppression and give just punishment to those who commit acts that destroy people and society. We must fight for justice and equal treatment of all people —regardless of race, gender, age, religion, and other differences—for God does not discriminate against people, and Jesus surrounded himself with many people who the world looked down upon.
The situation we are in now confuses us all, and we do not know what to do or say. The United States is such a divided society, that it is difficult to understand each other. But then, we must remember when Jesus defended a woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair in the company of important upper-class people.
It’s better to say something, to do something, even if we cannot say or do it perfectly. For Jesus sees our attempt even if we fail. One day, we will understand more, and there will be help for us to do more. When there is a crisis, it is good to have heard that Jesus is also where we are, not only when we are kind and good and make the right choices. It is good to know that he cries for us and with us when we have made bad choices and the consequences are catastrophic, that he is with us, even when we make mistakes.
He helps us when misfortune is upon us, when enemies surround us, and everything is collapsing around us. We believe in a crucified Christ, and the forgiveness we receive does not give us permission to continue to break God’s commandments. He gives us a chance to start anew in the belief that we will do what is in our power and with God’s help: to make this world a little better for ourselves and for others.
Jesus lifts us up when we have fallen; he never leaves us. So the image we have of God now is that he is the good warm caring and forgiving God, even when he is angry and fighting against what distracts us and keeps us away from him.
For our God is the God of grace, and he wants us to be gracious to one another … but we must also guide, teach, and show the way, and we have to think and think again and think ahead, try and fail, and forgive others and ask for forgiveness, so we can learn from our mistakes and get up again and move on with the boldness that only forgiveness can give us. We accept him, who is both strict and gentle at the same time.
God is like a father and a mother who want the best for their children, but who give their children the freedom to experience for themselves what is good and what is evil. When the parents take care of their children and intervene when something goes wrong, it is safe and good for a child.
God has given us both trust and freedom. But he can get angry when he sees that we are hurting each other. For God has given us to one another; what I say and do will always have consequences for someone else, both positive and negative. We are influenced and dependent on other people. But God never leaves us; he is with us every day, whether good or bad—until the end of the world.
To learn more about Mindekirken and to participate in their community, visit their website at www.mindekirken.net.
This article originally appeared in the March 26, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.