Standing Up for the Powerless

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

March 7, 2021 – Third Sunday of Lent - John 2:13-25

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Some scenes in the gospels create vivid images in us. Partly because they are quite dramatic. Sometimes, because they are so unique. This Sunday’s gospel about Jesus visiting the temple does both.

I remember my reaction to this gospel when I was a child. Children often remember times when their parents were angry and seemed to act out of character. That’s what we see in Jesus when he went to the holy temple in Jerusalem, likely to pray. But that’s not what happened. In a sense, we might say that he lost it. Others conclude just the opposite. He did what he rightfully had to do.

We all know that organized religion can be a source of great good. But we also are aware that it can be misused and cause harm, even great personal harm. Those with religiously sanctioned power over others can use that power to dominate and take advantage of the vulnerable.

As described in today’s gospel, Jesus ran into abusive religious power in a setting that was supposed to be the holiest of places in his time. The temple offered services that fittingly met people’s religious needs. In that place various animals were sacrificed to God as expressions of the people’s gratitude, need and hope. The connection between God and the people was most explicit.

But instead of serving the people, the authorities turned the temple into a money-making operation. That’s what Jesus found so inappropriate. He focused his negative judgment on the temple’s commerce. And it got him into trouble.

We have to ask today how we engage in the use of seemingly religious sanctioned power. For Jesus, power is given to some in order to serve, assist and support the needy, the weak and the powerless. Church leaders have power over others. So do parents and teachers. As do those engaged in law enforcement. Power is given not as a privilege but as a way to help others.

Thus, we are all invited to assess how we use the power given us over others. Do we use our power to truly help? To serve the needs of others and not our own? Are we respectful of those who need our help?       

©David M. Thomas, PhD

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