Them and Us
MSO Day 20 06 April 2020
Monday, Holy Week 2020
John 2:13–16 (NIV)
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
Matthew 21:12–13 (NIV)
12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
It is all their fault. Serve them right. When we read the above accounts of Jesus clearing the temple of moneychangers and merchants, we applauded dispassionately. It was all their fault. Then we get into an academic discussion on whether Jesus cleared the temple once or twice, as there was mention of two Passovers. It was always their fault; the merchants, temple religious authorities, thieves, robbers, and other bad guys. Jesus was right to punish them. When the COVID-19 outbreak was first detected in China, we sat back smugly saying, serve them right for eating these exotic animals. The pandemic spread to the rest of the world and now it is our neighbor’s fault; those who attended religious gatherings or those unhygienic migrants workers from undeveloped countries. This separation of them and us is the result of our rationalization and the need to pass the blame. We need to maintain our sense of superiority and righteousness. We do this by dividing everyone into two categories. The ‘us’ who is good and the ‘them’ who is not. That is why we can read these two events of Jesus cleansing the temple dispassionately and in the third person. We are not involved. Jesus is not angry with us. We are the good guys.
The Holy Spirit will not let us be. He whispers in the core of our spiritual being that we are the sinners. We cheat, steal, lie, and take advantage of our fellow human beings like those Jesus drove out of the temple. There is no us and them. That is our sinful self-justification to allow us to hate someone else. With 1.2 million people infected, 69,480 deaths, 208 countries involved, with most areas under lockdown, this single molecular virus has brought the world as we knew it to a standstill. Even if we find a treatment or a vaccine tomorrow, our world will not be the same again. The fallout will include a worldwide depression. Millions of lives and families will be affecting many facing poverty and famine. In times like this, we need to hear a message of hope. Almost all pastors preaching online speaks of hope. And that is what the gospel is all about. It is a message of hope. We, however, need to learn about lamentations and repentance.
Lamentations is a grief process. We lament at the passing away of a way of life – pre-Covid life. It is a loss. We grieve for the millions of people affected directly and indirectly. Our grief is for those who had died, are struggling for their lives on ventilators in ICUs, and those suffering in quarantine. We are restless and grieve for the loss of personal freedom of movement and gathering. We grieve for the restriction of our religious activities. Now is the time for us to lament. The Book of Lamentations was about grief when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. It was a lamentation of a people to help them cope with the loss of hope, and surprisingly to find hope. In the middle of the five chapters which made up the whole book, Jeremiah made this surprising statement, “ Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23 NIV).
We need to repent of our sins and our failures. This pandemic has us all confined to our homes. It forced us out of our hurried active lifestyle to a sort of hermitage existence. It threw away all the way we are used to doing church: Sunday worship in a huge auditorium, energy driving music, and activism in our church work. At one stroke, we are left ‘imprisoned’ in our homes with the bible and the Holy Spirit. This enforced time is an excellent time to review our spiritual life and our spiritual-faith-communities.
Was our spiritual life and church life worship acceptable to God?
Was it a performance designed to impress others?
Are our faith communities formative communities that empower every single one to edify each other and draw closer to God?
Are we just jumping from one program to another, like a hamster on a treadmill?
If our lifestyle and church are not acts of worship to God, then we really need to repent because it would not have been pleasing to God. The author of Chronicles stated, “… if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV). This verse contains a call to action, repentance, and a promise of hope.
Jesus cleansed the temple and in some ways, he may be cleansing us too because now we are the temple. In this time of a pandemic, there is a need for hope to sustain us. However, there is also a need to lament, and to repent. There is no them and us. We are all in this together. John Donne, an English poet, and Churchman wrote For Whom the Bells Toll
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
MSO Day 20
John Donne, Public Domain