For Heaven, Press Four
You know what I hate? I hate trying to phone some company and having to wade through seven or eight layers of computer prompts in order to do what I want to do. A few months ago, I received my daily New York Times soaking wet. The delivery person had delivered it without a plastic wrapper on a rainy morning. No doubt it wasn’t raining when he delivered it, but I assume he has a radio that receives weather reports just as mine does. So I called the 800 number provided by the newspaper. First I was prompted to decide whether or not I wanted the editorial or administrative offices. Then, I was prompted as to whether my called involved subscription services or billing. Then I was prompted as to whether I wanted to change my subscription, report a problem, or cancel my prescription.
I decided that this was a definite problem, so I selected option two. I was then prompted to choose whether I failed to receive my paper, or would I prefer to return to the main menu. Well, I did receive my paper. I just couldn’t read it. So I went back to the main menu. Of course, I had to hear my choices again. Since receiving a wet newspaper was not really what one would call “breaking” news, I once again chose the “administration” offices. I might have considered that since I didn’t want to pay for a wet newspaper, it was potentially a “billing” issue, but, in truth, I didn’t mind paying for the newspaper so much as I wanted one I could read. So, again, I selected “Subscription services.”
Now I don’t know why I do this. It’s not like they’re going to add another choice in between the last time I had the opportunity to choose among prompts a few moments ago. But I do find myself going through the whole maze twice when I call businesses, just in case I missed a prompt that would be more appropriate to my needs, such as “press 4 if our asshole delivery person left you a soaking wet newspaper.” They didn’t change the prompts.
By this time, however, I was angry. So I selected cancel my subscription. You know, when you indicate that you want to cancel your account you get a real human being? It’s true, you do. Right away. It couldn’t have been more than one or two rings and somebody picked up the phone and said, “Hello, this is Todd, how can I help you?” I explained my problem to Todd and Todd promised to get me a new newspaper in ADDITION to taking that day’s newspaper off my tab. Good for Todd. I kept my subscription. I learned from this that you can get pretty good service when you press the “I’m going to cancel my fucking account and take my businesses to your competitors who would like nothing more than to dance on your unemployed lifeless corpses” prompt. I just go there first. Things work better when you can go right to the source. Jesus understood this.
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
"What sign can you show us for doing this?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?"
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well. (Gospel of John, Chapter Two, 13-25)
Now this little piece of the New Testament has been quoted plenty of times to show the corruption of the Jews. It has also been used to point out the inconsistency of religion and commercialism. People who think that money and religion do not go together like to bring up the story of Jesus and the money changers. But this is not an indictment of the temple leaders. It is an indictment of the entire sacrificial system. Remember, throughout his ministry, Jesus calls on us to change our way of thinking.
It was perfectly legal for the money changers to be in the temple. It may well be, as some scholars say, that the money changers were cheating the people who came to make temple offerings. But it was perfectly legal for them to be there. The temple laws made it illegal to pay for sacrificial animals in Roman money. They had to use temple money. Money changers were necessary. Moreover, people needed animals for sacrifices. It was quite likely that the animal merchants had a deal going with the temple officials who would declare the animals people brought from home to be blemished and unworthy thereby requiring them to purchase new animals at the temple. But even had they not been duplicitous in such a scheme, some people would have still needed animals to sacrifice under the law.
All these merchants would have been in an outside courtyard, not in the temple itself. Jesus is protesting the entire process. In ancient times, only the priests of the temple could present a sacrifice to the holy of holies, behind the curtain. This story illustrates the belief that we need no one to represent us to God. According to the gospel account, when Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. Whether any of this really happened or not, is not important. The stories still illustrate that we can be united with the godhead ourselves. We do not need someone to go before us.
But Jesus makes it even more clear. He refers to himself as the temple of God. Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up, he says. Jesus says that we are the temple of God. His disciple, Paul, says so too. “Do you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? God’s temple is Holy and you are that temple” So this story is also about chasing those merchants and money changers out of your own temple.
I often find that whenever I try to be that temple of God, a thousand things come and get in my way. I get pissed off with people all during the day. I get judgmental. I get selfish. I find myself passing on some juicy piece of chisme (Spanish for gossip—great word). And then later on, when I think about it, I find I haven’t really been the kind of person I want to be. I have missed the mark. I start off the day with good intentions, but I get distracted. Daily living has its way of moving those merchants and money changers into your temple courtyard.
And just as in the temple of ancient days, we let those money changers and merchants stand in the way of people coming to the divine presence in us. We’re supposed to try to see the divine in everybody. It’s hard for me to see Christ in Rush Limbaugh. Still, I know that he is a child of God. But if I find it hard to find the image of God in other people, I make it impossible for people to see the image of God in myself. How in the world do people ever get past the money changers and merchants in my courtyard to get to the presence of the divine in me?
And then, when I spend time in meditation and prayer, to try to connect to that divine presence, I find myself drifting off in my imagination. With my attention span, and all the myriad things going on the world to stress me out, my mind wanders at the drop of a hat—and hats are dropping all over the place. One minute I’m thinking about love and all the blessings I have that I can share. And the next moment I’m thinking about how much money my retirement accounts have lost. Chasing off all those external distracting thoughts isn’t easy. That’s why Buddhist monks and Taoist priests spend years learning to do it. It’s why people bury themselves away in monasteries. But of course, as the bible points out time and again, the object of life isn’t just to find God, but to bring God to the world, not in the evangelical sense of preaching to everybody, but by being the hands of God, by serving one another.
And that is one purpose of this Lenten season. It is our opportunity to chase out all those money changers ourselves. Take down those barriers that keep you from being the hands of God on earth. Take down the barriers that keep people from knowing you. Take down those barriers that keep you from your own self actualization. Take down those barriers that keep you from connecting to the divine spirit. You don’t need to follow any special protocol, no animal sacrifices, no interceders necessary. You can go right to the source. And you don’t even have to threaten to cancel your account.