Tenderness, Fierceness, Mischievousness
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA; 3 Lent, 8 March 2015
Year B RCL: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Jesus did not come & inflict salvation on us.
He came & lived as one of us.
I finally got around to tending our backyard pond yesterday to take a break from writing a draft of this sermon. From all the recent rain & winds, I found a mess of sludge, twigs, debris. It was like the sermon!
I intend to tend the pond more regularly, but it's cold & I'm busy. [I hope the pond & fish excuse my excuses.] One blessing the pond & I have is my husband, who tends it more regularly than I do. It's a gift he freely offers that brings healing to the pond & relieves me of 1 more to-do.
Tending to one another is one of the healing gifts we have in this Body of Christ & which we offer beyond our red doors.
We live into God's stipulation that we love our neighbor as ourself.
We continue Jesus' work of tender compassion that we see when he feeds the hungry.
Usually, we are able to express the tenderness
of compassion for people in need.
Notice: Jesus doesn't ask people how they got in need or in a mess.
The Phaisees do ask.
When our level of compassion goes up because we know something wasn't the person's fault, something is askew in our perspective.1
Think of how Jesus shows compassion when something is the person's fault, as we see when he is confronted about the woman caught in adultry. [More of that later.]
We can learn to see as Jesus sees.
We can enhance our gift of compassion by developing all 3 types of it that we see when Jesus responds to hurts & injustices.
Jesus responds with tenderness, fierceness
In our Gospel today we see Jesus fiercely respond to the mess leaders have made in the temple. I wonder how the leaders can see that mess & proclaim to obey the 10 commandments we hear in our first lesson.
We call them the 10 Commandments. We call them the Decalogue [BCP P. 317.], the 10 statements2. These 10 stipulations, as I call them, are for us to apply in our relationships with God & with each other.
Notice: There is no stipulation about punishment.3
Jesus summarizes the 10 stipulations in Mark 12:30-31:
love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength & your neighbor as yourself.
When we love our neighbor, we do no intentional harm, no murder. These arise from anger. There's a difference between anger & fierceness, as we remember especially this weekend on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on the march across the bridge in Selma, Alabama.
Why does God give us the capacity to be angry?
Anger energizes us to pursue safety for ourselves & others. That sounds like a pretty good ability. There is a fine line between anger & fierceness. Anger rants against a past perceived injustice. Fierceness confronts in a single-minded pursuit to transform injustice for a just future.
The difference is, as commedian Richard Pryor says:
Are we interested in “justice” or “just us”.4
Justice or Just Us
Fierceness is anger redeemed.
Anger is usually noisy, filled with emotion.
Fierceness can go beyond emotion & be quiet.
Jesus responds in silence as he stands before Pilate.
Jesus fiercely confronts Peter: “Get behind me, Satan,”
as we remember from last Sunday.
Today we see Jesus fiercely cleaning house.
His energy confronts the religious leaders to whom religion is a business.5 The leaders ignore the 1st stipulation: have no other gods except the Lord our God. They have so much stuff cluttering their relationship with God, so many rules & distractions:
animals for sacrifice, money changers to exchange Roman coins with the emperor's image on them for proper Jewish coins that men can use to pay the temple maintenance tax required of all men over 19 years old.6
Being mired in details, we overlook or fail to embrace God's gifts of Grace & Love.
In today's Gospel leaders ask for a sign for what Jesus is doing. Jesus says he'll destroy the temple & raise it up in 3 days. The leaders get literal:
How can you do that?
It's been under construction 46 years!
The leaders only see this as absurdity, the foolishness Paul speaks of to the Corinthians. As the New Amerian Bible for Catholics says7,
We find true wisdom & power...where they seem to be missing:
Jesus on the cross looks like powerlessness & absurdity.
Details can make it hard for us to imagine how we could possibly forgive, let alone love, some nefarious person. It's easier to hold them in contempt.
We can transform contempt into curiosity &
wonder what fragment/smidgen of
positive motivation lies behind their bad actions.
On the cross, Jesus says: “Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.” The crucifiers are ignorant, not evil.
They see Jesus as a threat to their way of life. Their positive intention is to protect stability in life. Their strategy is to kill Jesus.
We can't affirm the strategy. We can affirm the intention.
Know this: There are wise, practical, compassionately fierce ways to love & to forgive someone, even an enemy, & fiercely keep them in jail, not as punishment but as a compassionate way to protect others from further injustice.
We see fierce compassion as Jesus cleanses the temple.
Where do we see Jesus' mischievous compassion?
Why would Jesus use mischievousness?
Mischievousness facilitates transformation.
It is light-hearted teasing to elicit a
new understanding or insight.
Think of the Syrophonecian woman begging Jesus to cure her daughter. Jesus says he can't give the children's bread to dogs. She sees herself in a new way & I think she is a bit mischievous in her response: Let me have the crumbs.
Jesus is mischievous when leaders challenge him about the woman caught in adultery. He doodles in the sand & says go ahead: the one without sin throws the 1st stone.
They depart, oldsters 1st, who catch onto the truth quicker than the youngsters.
I remember a youngster at Good Shepherd in Swainsboro, who had great insight. Helping launch the parish's study of the Rev. Bob Libby's book, Grace Happens: Stories of Everyday Encounters with Grace, I was chatting with the 7-year-old's mother, who shared the child's question about our saying the confession week after week:
“Why should we say this every week?” the child asks. “We should be better now.”
The child gives us an excellent example of mischievous compassion.....Well, Beloved Brothers & Sisters,
why should we say the confession every week?
We should be better now.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
http://www.thesaurus.com/. Accessed: 7 March 2015.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 16 Feb. 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Expanded Ed. Revised Stantard Version. Eds: Herbert G. May. Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press. 1977.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR:The Appreciative Way. 2010. “Teaching Forgiveness” www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
2 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 148
3 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible.
4 Ibid. Quoted P. 56. Voyles, Robert J. “Teaching Forgiveness”.
5 The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. P. 1288.
6 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1037.
7 Ibid. New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1231.