Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 118, 145
1 Peter 3:13-22
How do I determine whether I am doing the right thing?
Whenever I go to a big social event – it is rare, but it happens – I glance at the door panel of my truck, still unpainted Bondo four years after having it repaired. It looks bad but has nothing to do with the operations of the truck and somewhat reflects my view of a truck’s function: it works. A car, on the other hand, would have been painted right away. Still, when I go to that social function I feel a bit self-conscious about the entrance I make. Today’s passages foretell and describe the entrance of a triumphal Jesus and I feel a bit better because he comes in on the truck of his time.
This final Sunday in Ordinary Time and the liturgical year has us focus on the final Sunday of Christ’s physical life. He comes into town in the midst of great attention, energizing some and angering others. Some interpret the Zechariah passage as predicting a powerful warrior-king coming to retake the Holy Land with force. The passage though, with Jesus coming in on the donkey actually shows the anti-warrior-king, someone who neutralizes the warring forces and returns the land to covenant peace. The force of God’s presence proves sufficient to defeat those who would dominate the land with the sword (or power, or money).
The peaceful interpretation gets further fulfilled in the Matthew passage when the people respond to Jesus’s arrival at Jerusalem with peaceful celebrations and exultant joy. They connect to his lowly status and embrace his message of justice. The masses respond to the force of God’s presence and it proves sufficient to mobilize those in power against the prophet in their midst. Their positions are far too comfortable to be encumbered with his message and they are blinded by the work they have done to get into those positions to see how discrepant they are to the real work of God.
Jesus’s defiant cleansing of the Temple, particularly threatened those in power. The money changers and vendors within the Temple walls served those in power by taking advantage of the people coming to worship, charging them so they could worship and tithe following the Pharisees’ rules. Jesus, by throwing out the money changers, in a way baptized the Temple. He cleansed its spirit. 1 Peter describes that same effect on us through baptism. Baptism is not for the body, but for the spirit. As we face challenges, regardless of past sin, we are able to power through them, as Christ did, when we have a clear conscience.
Today’s scriptures remind us that the vehicle does not matter nearly as much as the message. Christ’s message changed his world because he lived the intent of the law instead of the letter. He demonstrated to all who saw and heard him that all of God’s commands came from a position of love and any other application violated the law. The law, followed to the letter without consideration of its intent, can actually do harm to the physical and spiritual lives of those upon whom it is inflicted. Jesus set the example for us, proving that the force of God’s presence is enough. Through our baptism, we access that force and are capable of doing anything he asks of us.
Let us keep a clear conscience as we daily immerse ourselves in God’s will and labor with God’s intent.