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.
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.
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
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.