Bible Study: 3 Lent (B)

March 8, 2015

Christine Havens, Seminary of the Southwest

“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’” (John 2:14-16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Exodus 20:1-17

This week’s Old Testament reading is the first instance in the narrative of the exodus of Israelites from Egypt in which the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) appears. It appears again in Exodus 34, immediately following the making of the golden calf, when Moses carries the tablets down from the mountain.

In this narrative, the people are privy to God’s voice, are present for the thunder and sounding of trumpets that herald the Lord’s approach; Moses brings the people to meet God (verses 17-20). After God has spoken the ordinances, which might be a better word than “commandments,” the people decide that they want Moses to act as mediator between themselves and the Lord (verses 18-19), because direct contact with God and his voice is too awesome, too overwhelming. The sign was both a gift and a test designed to help them keep from sin.

The Decalogue is not an everyday occurrence in our liturgy; it appears as an optional opening to the Liturgy of the Word in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 324). When was the last time you recited the Decalogue? Perhaps as part of the liturgy on the First Sunday in Lent?

Exodus does not record any response of the people as they heard God’s words; do you consider the Decalogue a conversation? Why or why not?

The Book of Common Prayer adds a response for the people (p. 317); read it and discuss whether this changes the “commandments.”

Psalm 19

Psalm 19 seems to be a work of contrasts, two discrete pieces, according to some scholars. The first six verses are labeled as a hymn to the sun; the remainder of the verses are devoted to torah (not only meaning “Law,” but also “instruction” and “learning”), having no clear connection to the beginning.

Have you ever read one of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Here are the first lines of Sonnet 116, one of his most familiar, and often encountered at weddings:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

One feature of the Shakespearean sonnet is that the final two lines (the couplet) take an unexpected turn from the first verses.

Read the psalm and then read the sonnet; consider the form of each. How are the two similar in form? Is there a turn in the psalm? If so, where does it come, and why might the psalm’s writer use such a turn?

Reread today’s Old Testament reading. Does the Decalogue share anything in common with Psalm 19? If so, what?

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

My church is located on the border of the University of Texas campus. This year, we celebrated Mardi Gras with a lawn party, complete with a live zydeco band. I volunteered to hand out beads to passing students and others, inviting them to not only to receive ashes with us the following day, but to come and join us for homemade gumbo and grilled sausage, free – no strings attached.

I’m a nerd, but like many, worry about making a fool out of myself, being considered weird, and thus being ostracized because of that perception. However, I jumped at the chance to wear green, gold and purple clothing, don my pinstripe blazer decorated with moons and stars, and grab my mask and drape my many beads around my neck.

As I began to ask passing people if they would like some beads, I was quiet and still, but as the afternoon wore on, I began to dance to the music, wave at passing cars and those on the opposite side of the street – reveling in the joy of it as people smiled, even though some of those smiles were the “I’m embarrassed for you” type of smile. And many passersby crossed the street or deliberately did not disengage from their cell phones. I handed out beads for three hours and felt more exhilarated as time passed – foolishness held no fear for me as the momentary community ebbed and flowed. Those who were “wise,” who considered those who believe to be “fools,” missed something precious.

And so, in the midst of the solemn season of Lent, as we read Paul’s words about human wisdom and God’s wisdom, ask yourself, “Where is the foolishness of the cross in my life?”

John 2:13-22

Today’s gospel is the Johannine version of Jesus’ interaction with the moneychangers and sacrifice sellers within the Temple in Jerusalem. Unlike the three synoptic gospels, John’s christology places the event early in the narrative, right after the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs the changing of water into wine, the first sign.

Jesus’ zealous actions provoke the Jews present to ask for a sign “for doing this.” What gives him authority, in other words? Are they looking for a miraculous sign? Would they have heard about his actions in Cana?

Is it wise or foolish to look for signs as proof, as a reason to believe, to have faith in God or in Jesus? You might consider this a foolish question, but think about your own spiritual journey. Was there a moment or a time in your life when you turned away, when you doubted? What brought you back to God? A physical experience? Something you saw? Words from scripture? Something you heard?

Comments

  1. Sudie Throdahl says:

    I like to think of the Ten Commandments as commandments rather than ordinances. For me an ordinance is something my community government has passed i.e. a leash law, recycling. Isn’t God asking for a loving relationship and the Ten Commandments sets a framework for us to try to be good, wise and holy?

  2. Nick Edwards says:

    Seems to me that the Israelites did hear God’s voice in Exodus 20 and agreed to obey. The Rabbis say this is the cardinal event of their covenant as a nation-a calling that is not deficient. The word mitzvah is translated commandment and is related to the Hebrew word for connection. The commandments have always been understood as a way to connect to the great Creator God.

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