Rev. Katherine Todd
Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 10, 12-13a
Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 10, 12-13a
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Whenever before I’ve heard this story of Jesus running all the vendors and merchants out of the temple, I always thought Jesus was calling them “robbers” – that perhaps they were selling these items and animals for too much money, or something. And perhaps they were. Their tables were closest to the temple; thus, the most convenient.
But today I am wondering if Christ wasn’t also referring to the pilgrims who had come from near and far to worship there and offer sacrifices… as also being robbers.
Could it be that Jesus was perceiving the hearts of all who were there?
When we go back to the commands to offer sacrifices, we notice that the command requires a letting go of something prized and precious – livestock without blemishf, the first-born of such livestock, the first fruit of the garden, the flour laboriously prepared from grain, fine wine undiluted, etc.
God commanded folks to offer something they had long-labored over.
And so I wonder, was the whole point being missed if the gift wasn’t a labored-after item or animal but rather money? With the vendors conveniently outside the temple, one didn’t need to bring their prized animal to the temple. Rather, they could buy one & offer it up. With the vendors conveniently outside the temple, they didn’t have to bring the wine they themselves prepared over years because they could easily buy some right outside the temple. With the vendors conveniently outside the temple, one didn’t have to carry milled flour on the back, depleting your labored-over store, but could simply buy some flour from a merchant just before entering the temple…
Are any of you crafters? If you are, you know the pride in your creation – be it beautiful or not!
Are any gardeners? If so, you know how amazing it feels with the months of preparing the soil, watering, weeding, and waiting FINALLY pay off in that miracle of your first fruit or vegetable!
Do any of you sew? Then you know the pride you feel at completing a pattern – with skill and accuracy!
There is a pride, a joy, a sacrifice in giving something we’ve worked with for long while, something we’ve sustained through thick and thin, something that took an awful lot of us to make.
And yet, is money not long labored for?
Sure it is!!!
And yet, is that not different than the feeling you get after spending your Saturday mowing the lawn or a month building something with all the creative engineering you can muster?
Somehow, I think it is different.
Money has different value to different folks – depending on how hard they’ve had to work for it – does it not? And yet, in & of itself, money means nothing. Few of us would express a connection with money itself, for it is only metal, it is only paper.
More to the point,
Why do we refrain from giving our time?
Could it be it feels more precious?
Why do we refrain from giving of the first fruits of our labor?
Might it be we rationalize it safer to give us our leftovers than of our prime stock?
Are there not times when it feels safer and easier to give money, than of our very selves?
Jesus enters the bustling scene of folks opting for convenience over true sacrifice. What was intended to be a laying down of oneself had been re-framed as something that could be bought.
But could a right relationship with God be bought?
Could intimacy with God be bought?
Could holiness or forgiveness be bought?
…Or did the rich man’s nicer gift mean more than the poor man’s?
Sacrifice acknowledges that we all have something God has given, and from THAT we give: we give a portion of what God has given us, back. True sacrifice isn’t for sale. It cannot be bought.
So, returning to this Biblical story, might Jesus’ protest that the temple had been turned into a den of robbers been referring, not only to the merchants but to the pilgrims and guests? Amid convenience and utilizing our wily wit, had we started bringing God half the gifts we were due? Had we substituted authentic sacrifice for a poor substitute?
I believe we had.
And I believe we do.
Today we no longer believe God to require animal sacrifices, but we do practice that giving of our first fruits – that tithe, that offering.
And so I ask, what is most precious to you?
Your time and attention?
Your love and devotion?
Laboring over a warm meal?
Meticulously trimming the grass and bushes?
Visiting those distanced?
Sharing your knowledge and expertise?
Offering someone a ride?
Assisting in the process of seeking justice and loving mercy?
Giving of your heart and enthusiasm?
What is it?
And is it easier to give money, than to give of these things?
What represents a laying down of yourself?
What represents your acknowledgement
that everything you have has, in fact, come by God’s hand?
What is something you most highly prize, because it is the best of yourself?
THAT is what God is asking us to bring.
Scripture refers to the “sacrifice of praise” and the giving over of our bodies as living sacrifice. For you see, Christ wanted us to get away from trying to fulfill the minimal requirements and to get to the point of offering our whole selves up to God!
The tangible gift was meant to invite us deeper, to call us further, to overflow in grateful praise!
For indeed, all that we might offer God, has come from God in the first place! It is a gift!
And Christ – the Lamb of God, as John loves to call him – is about to give the whole of himself. Christ will lay his body down. Christ will lay his power down. Christ will offer himself wholly to God, and this is our example!
We are not to fulfill the letter of the law, the details of the rule, the minimum expectations or requirements. But we are to rise above, offering all of ourselves to God, holding nothing back. Only then do we truly worship God, in spirit and in truth. Everything else is a pale comparison.
And so may we not be found to be such “a den of robbers,”
saving the best of ourselves FOR ourselves alone,
but, in the example of Christ,
may we offer our very selves in full obedience to God
– to be used as God so chooses.