In today’s readings one word comes up again and again.
In the time of Jesus there was a secular law - the law of the occupying civil government - Roman law. Of significantly more importance was THE LAW - the word of God as written in the Pentateuch, or the first 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These books contain what the Jewish people held - and continue to hold - dear, essential. These books contain the Ten Commandments, a record of the covenant relationship between God and the chosen people, the laws/rules that govern every aspect of daily life including prayer, food preparation, diet, personal hygiene, business, marriage, agriculture, social responsibility and ethical treatment.
Here the story of Moses, the Lawgiver, unfolds before us. His life rivals any soap opera that could ever be written. He carries the tablets, inscribed by the finger of God, not once but twice down a mountain to deliver and reveal to the people for all time. He really ‘laid down the Law’ the Law of God.
Psalm 19, a song of David, continues the praise of the Law - the Law of the Lord is "perfect....revives the soul.....is just....rejoices the heart....is more to be desired than gold" and "sweeter than honey".
Now, stop me if I’m wrong, but - other than in an overly and overtly melodramatic movie from the 1940's - when is the last time you heard someone wax poetic about the Law? about yearning to keep and abide by the Law? about considering the Law to be ultimately desirous?
Alright, let’s move onto the epistle because..... well, because we can RELATE to it in the here and now.... we may need to unwind the convoluted style, but we get the picture.
The author - purportedly Paul - puts the conflict in terms we can easily recognize and relate to... even in this day and age. (let me paraphrase here). The Law is spiritual and good - intellectually I know the Law is good - and my mind wants to do what is right-what is good. Despite that, I find I am drawn (by evil) to do that which is contrary to both the Law and my better judgement. I am at odds with myself to do the right thing. When I read this passage over and over one thing popped into my consciousness: He comes just shy of the Flip Wilson one-liner: the Devil made me do it!
Finally we come to the Gospel. It does not, precisely, even bring up the word Law..... but regulations and rules are implied. In John’s account the Passover is about to occur - the most sacred time of the year for the Jews- the time when the people were to remember how the angel of God passed over the households of the Israelites, sparing everyone, including each first born, leading Pharaoh to free the Israelites and the eventual deliverance of all the people by the hand of God. The holiday was truly a holy day. A day of honoring the Law and all the laws and customs of the people.
Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the holy day. Going to the temple - he saw what had become commonplace. Money-changers: men who exchanged Roman currency the currency of the Temple which in turn could be used by the faithful to buy any number of animals for sacrifice from the merchants on premises. This activity was NOT illegal - it was NOT against the Law. And yet, he was obviously infuriated. He drove out the people, the animals and set the coins flying into the air. The pilgrims, the vendors, the money changers were all beside themselves and they demanded an explanation. "What sign can you show us for doing this" in effect - what’s your justification in the Law? what rule book are you using?
They did not see - they were blinded from seeing- that Jesus was the culmination and outward and visible sign of all that the Law contained in the Ten Commandments: loving God above all, worshiping God alone, honoring God in word and deed, keeping God a priority by setting aside a day for study, meditation, worship and re-creation, honor of parents, life, property, sacred unions, honesty in all things. The bazaar that had evolved around and within the temple had become at least once removed from the intent of the temple itself - the setting aside of holy ground for the Holy of Holies.
There are times when we too lose sight of the Law of Moses which - to this day - is the foundation of a good, holy life. We can become cynical and callous to the love of a system of justice that can create order and peace. We can fall to the temptation of instant gratification rather than sticking to that which we know to be right, to be good.
Similar to the people in the time of Jesus, we can become distracted from the true purpose of this temple - this holy ground - this church. We could disintegrate into a merelsocial club or a forum for human rights issues. If the Church is to continue, grow, and thrive we must do what is in our power to worship the Lord in beauty and holiness, to - individually and corporately - adhere to the promises in our Baptismal Covenant: to "continue in the apostles’teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers; strive for justice, peace and respect for others; seek and serve Christ in others; strive to do what is right, and - when we fail - earnestly repent and rededicate ourselves; proclaim the Good News of God in Christ by word and deed." Then we will be following, living and loving the Law.
"Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer". Amen.