The Gibraltar Open is the snooker of the week. No audience, though piped clapping, as far as I could make out. I watched some of it on EuroSport. The rules actually make the game. Harriet, our youngest, got a card game book for Christmas, and I delighted in being with her over the last two months playing new card games. The difficulty is interpreting the rules. We didn’t come to blows, but we could have done. The rules make the game work. Without rules there is anarchy. Can you image a game of cards with each player devising the rules as you go along. The Law, summarised in the Ten Commandments, was a gift from God. It turned the wandering tribes each with different aspirations, leadership, cultures and traditions into a single nation with a commonality of the law, and that, truly, was a gift worth having. We rarely read the Psalm appointed for the day, and I am glad we have read psalm 19 today. The Psalmist says ‘I shall walk at liberty for I have sought your precepts’ and describes the law as perfect, sure, right, clear, pure and true, but also soul-reviving, wise-making, heart-rejoicing, eye-enlightening and forever enduring. All words we would use in worship for God rather than about the law. Indeed of all God’s gifts at creation, the psalmist says none is more precious than the law – comparable with the sun. They became, as we are, servants to the law because we do what it says, yet there is a fine balance because the law is there to serve our society, it enables us and frees us and provides security. Isrealite religion was not entirely focused on the 613 laws in the Old Testament, as clarified by ancient interpreters. It was always more than that. You might legislate for someone to love God, but love is not able to be forced. It comes through relationship with others and with God. But the law was a necessary starter. All nations’ security, future, hope, and existence depend on good law. The law was and is there to ensure that life, liberty, and creation are properly valued. In the Magana Carta, the American Constitution, the universal declaration of human rights and many others, the law limits the excesses of the tyrant and provides a measure of justice and righteousness. Of course the danger is that the law becomes that which is worshipped, rather than God. The rules are more important than the spirit of them. People use the law for their own gain. Rowan Atkinson’s sketch about the Devil in hell has him organising the new arrivals – putting murderers in one spot, thieves in another, the French in another and lawyers in another. When the law is become worshipped for its own sake, then the purpose is lost. Remember how many times the gospel writers tell of the key people making decisions and criticising Jesus, unwilling to bend, unable to love. They were usually the Pharisees and the scribes, the teachers of the law. John has Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple right at the beginning of his gospel, just after the wedding in Cana in Galilee where he has turned water into wine. The Temple, anxious to make a fast buck, was encouraging all types of trading to go on in its porticos. The gift of the law, rather than being enabling and freeing people, had become a creaking burden for the poor, a vast and pointless money-making enterprise, a breaking of the sanctity of the building turning the centre of God’s worship into a shopping mall, a religious supermarket. Easily done when human greed manipulates even God’s law unto themselves. So Jesus comes in all anger blazing. The law was suddenly not about God but about money, not about holiness but about trade, not about life, but about death of a truly vast number of God’s creatures for sacrifice on an industrial scale. So Jesus, the full and final sacrifice, is seen as the most dreadful threat to the economy of sacrifice in the temple. His words, that he will rebuild the Temple in three days are misquoted by the witnesses at his trial, used to crucify him. John purposely puts this story right at the beginning of the gospel – whereas the others have it chronologically at the end, because John is telling his readers who Jesus is. He is the new wine where the washing rituals are now past, he is the new Temple, the final sacrifice, the end of Temple power and politics. He is the new gift from God – not replacing the law but showing us the purpose. That purpose, for all of us in the graciousness of God is that we might be free to play, to love, to live, to enjoy the gift of life with others around us.
Read John 2:13-22
Jesus clears the temple courts
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’[a]
18 The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’
19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’
20 They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
- John 2:17 Psalm 69:9