Paul faced the same problem with his community in Corinth that the four evangelists later would experience with their communities in other parts of the biblical world: Lots of people want to get the "goodies" that faith in Jesus promises, but few want to acquire them the way Jesus did (I Cor 1:22-25).

"Jews demand signs," the Apostle writes, "and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

No matter the example of Jesus, the death, weakness and foolishness He demands are simply too much for some who regard themselves to be "other Christs." Yet all our Christian sacred authors agree: the life Jesus achieved and proclaimed can be entered only through a gate that leads to crucifixion.

Renewed Temple

This fact made such an impression on John that he retells the story of Jesus' cleansing of the temple (John 2:13-25) -- which he found in the writings of the other three evangelists -- from the perspective of Jesus' death.

Here, it's Jesus' zeal for Judaism's real faith that brings about His crucifixion. Jesus' prophetic ministry of calling His fellow-Israelites back to the roots of their faith will cause His demise.

Irate with the non-religious, but commonly accepted clutter in the Jerusalem temple, He symbolically cleanses its precincts. "Take these out of here," He commands, "and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."

Such prophetic actions directed against the status quo of "non-suffering" Judaism will eventually cause the destruction of the "temple" of Jesus' body. Yet, as difficult as it is to imitate, Jesus' followers know that only this destruction will bring about His Resurrection.

This concept of life through death didn't start with the historical Jesus. As a good Jew, He frequently would have reflected on Sunday's first reading (Exodus 20:1-17).

I asked a rabbi friend for his opinion about the recent furor over the displays of the Ten Commandments in government buildings. He agreed with my reading of the situation: It's somewhat amusing that people who haven't entered into a covenant with Yahweh want to publicly display and "push" some of the terms of that covenant.

Our Jewish sacred authors never conceived of these commandments as "generic" laws, binding everyone on earth. They're part of a covenant -- a contract -- between Yahweh and a specific group of people. Only those who freely enter into that agreement are responsible for carrying out its obligations. You, for instance, aren't bound by the contract I signed with the community college at which I teach. Nor am I bound by your contracts.

Contract

It's clear that many non-Jews would like to emphasize and adhere to some of the laws of the Jewish covenant, while, at the same, time ignoring the relationship that gave rise to those laws.

Anyone who has ever entered into the covenant of marriage will testify that such a relationship always entails a death on the part of both parties. Marriage is more than just observing certain specific rules and regulations. A committed relationship both surfaces our weaknesses and demands that we engage in foolishness. It's a real "crucifixion."

But, on the other hand, only committed relationships can make life fulfilling for us.

The Israelite covenant with Yahweh was the most life-giving element they experienced, even if they knew nothing of an after-life. The Christian's covenant with Jesus extends that fulfilling life into eternity. Once we enter into the death of a "covenant commitment" as Jesus did, life will come naturally.

(3/16/06)