Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Devil in the details: Lent 3

This Lent, our theme is finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospels. In the first week, the devil appeared as Jesus’ tempter in the wilderness, who is hell-bent on destroying as much goodness as possible. Last week, we heard Jesus describe the apostle Peter as “Satan” because he was literally doing the devil’s work in trying to obstruct Jesus’ way to the cross (and thus to our salvation). We too can do the devil’s work when we interfere in God’s plans.

So where is Satan in our reading today—John’s account of Jesus cleansing the Temple. True, he’s not mentioned explicitly in this passage, but if we look closely, we’ll find the devil lurking in the shadows.

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to tell me that of all places, the devil is most active in church, because that’s where he’s threatened the most and where he stands the most to lose. You can be sure that whatever Jesus is up to, it is in direct contrast to Satan. Here, Jesus is driving the animals out of Solomon’s portico and overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple. When his disciples looked back on this, they remembered the psalm: “Zeal for thy house will consume me.”

Why was Jesus so upset in the first place? An entire business had grown up around the Jewish sacrificial system. You were to bring an unblemished animal to the Temple for sacrifice. When your animal was inspected, they usually found a blemish.

“But don’t worry, you can trade yours in for this other unblemished one for a price.” So you trade in your animal and you pull out your money to pay the fee. “Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t use Roman coins here. They have an image of Caesar on them, who claims to be a god. That means your coins are idols, and of course no idols are allowed here. But don’t worry, you can trade in your Roman coins for some Temple coins, for a price.”

And thus, the Israelites coming to worship at the Temple, according to the Torah, were being defrauded for doing so (and not once, but twice over). The devil loves corruption, so this was very pleasing to him, of course. But if there’s one thing he really hates, it’s the worship of God.

Jesus, on the other hand, loves worship. His whole life was an act of worship. Jesus was zealous for the Temple, and for the worship of God. He could not stand by and let this corruption go on.

How do you feel about worship? You may not hate it the way the devil does, but if zeal for God’s house doesn’t fill your heart, the devil is having his way. Satan hates worship and tries to foster anything that would corrupt worship, or distract us from worship, or make us fight over worship, and thereby reduce the glory and adoration that we give to God.

In a book on the liturgy he wrote before becoming Pope Benedict, Josef Ratzinger noted, “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church we are experiencing is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.” Our liturgy has been disintegrated and watered down over the past decades.

One principle of liturgics is Lex orandi, lex credendi “Law of prayer, Law of belief.” Which is to say, what we pray shapes what we believe, and what we believe shapes the way we pray. Change your prayers, and your beliefs will adapt accordingly.

We’ve seen all kinds of liturgical abuses and corruptions—like avoidance of the masculine pronoun for God and Jesus, avoidance of words like Lord, kingdom, and any mention of sin. So now we have a whole generation to whom the idea of the incarnation and the lordship of Christ (who is also our Savior from sin) is totally foreign.

The devil loves wars over worship because it distracts us from glorifying God. Congregations are split and divided about music —- traditional chants, old fashioned hymns, modern choruses, contemporary Christian hits, etc. The devil loves anything that will divide us and distract us from our task of giving worship to God.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape advises his underling Wormwood, “I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it.”

Corrupt, obscure, distract, divide and conquer, anything you can do to stop the worship of God —- that’s the devil’s plan. God’s plan is different -— “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth stand in awe of him” (Psalm 96:9).

When Jesus cleanses the Temple, they remember Psalm 69:9, which was taken as a mark of the Messiah -— “Zeal for thy house has consumed me.” Should this not also be a characteristic of the Christ-like disciple?

Zeal is fervent love, total commitment to the worship of God. In Hebrew, "zealous" is actually the same word also translated as "jealous." We heard the Ten Commandments today in our first reading. When God commanded us not to worship other gods (idols), it was explained that our God is a jealous God.

His zeal, his fervent love is for our worship. We should be zealous for God as he is zealous for us. May God ignite in us the zeal of love that burned in the heart of Jesus as he bore his passion.

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