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Lectionary Living

On Being Human

(3/7) Exodus 20:1-17  •  Psalm 19  •  1 Corinthians 1:18-25  •  John 2:13-22

    Everyone has a tipping point; even Jesus could get mad. In this week's John reading, he's walking into the temple during the week before Passover when it happens. The Passover festival itself had become an opportunity for a few to take advantage of the crowds of people in Jerusalem. To meet their needs, an area of the temple had been set up as a storefront, with sheep, doves, and cattle ready to be sold. Merchants, with tables set up to manage various currency of the travelers to Jerusalem, were present too. Convenience without rival – compared to this operation, Amazon Prime is a distant second. Jesus, apparently pretty put out, first took the time to make a rope whip. Next he drove out the animals and turned over the tables of the merchants. Last, he explained himself, telling those selling the doves to stop making my Father's house a marketplace.  

    Jesus here illustrates a key aspect of being human. The emotional system, when yoked to the intellectual system, can do great things. The energy available to the person – the adrenalin rush, we would call it – must be channeled. Overthinking it must be avoided, lest the energy be lost; one's principles must already be in place and ready for action. When the moment is right, though, it can serve a great purpose. In this case, a purpose still reflected on, all over the world, on the third Sunday of Lent.  

    When expressed as thoughtless reactivity and sprayed around a group of people, anger can do a lot of damage. The danger, though, is the avoidance of the expression of any anger. The idea that one must always please others, or always be willing to compromise, is far from the example being set here. In this reading, the time had come to take a mature stand against the corrupt temple practices.

    Corruption itself is injustice finding its way into everyday practice. At its most basic, it's something one hears on the playground: that's not fair. Animal species too – from crows to dogs to horses to primates – react to unfairness. Crows go pretty far with this – refusing any food reward at all, even after completing the task, if another crow had received a better one! Among humans, we adults, used to the unfairness of life, still have a tipping point. Sometimes, things just go too far to be tolerated.

     I wonder if the sense of fairness has been built into creatures as an adaptive process. If food is not shared, the herd diminishes; without the herd, the survival of the individuals is threatened. Attention to fairness gets built in, making sure all are eating, with a cross-species attention, as well. Did you know that animals take turns at water holes every day? This allows all to live – and hunt and be hunted by one another time!

    Attention to inequity is ongoing in human communities. When humans lived in small tribes, there was a good chance that fairness within the tribe itself would prevail. Everyone worked; everyone ate; all of it was monitored by group members. Even today, on a busy family farm, the five-year old washes the dishes because the family needs for her to help – everyday life is an all-hands-on-deck situation. All contribute and all are cared for. In a functional family or other group, each person is attending to responsibilities for self and to others. Respecting the dignity of all prevails. 

    The trouble is that today's large and loosely connected human communities often lack a tribe's constant attention to fairness. Some win and some lose. In today's story, the winners were the temple authorities and merchants. The losers were all those flocking to the city to observe the Passover, about to be taken advantage of.

    The anger of Jesus was certainly Biblical. A thousand and one prophetic texts come to mind. Let justice roll on like a river (Amos 5:24). What does the Lord require, but to do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) And so on. In addition to being Biblical, justice, as I see it, is human. Sensitivity to unfairness is built-in to our species. Noticing it, deciding what one will do about it, offers a chance to be more human: more oneself. 

Daily Reflections:

Morning: Where might I see unfairness today?

Evening: When did I express anger in a mature way today? When did I get more reactive and less thoughtful?

Psalm 19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

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