I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I swallowed it my stomach turned sour.
Rev. 10: 10
When he had gone into the temple he began to cast out those who were engaged in selling. He said to them, “It stands written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it ‘a robber’s cave.'”
Luke 19: 45-6
The prophet/author of Revelation receives, in the manner of Ezechiel, his prophetic mission. He is to “digest” the word so that it becomes his home, his way of seeing and “judging” the world. Although the word is “sweet” as it is taken in, it is also sour or bitter when digested fully so that it begins to influence the nature of one’s presence and action in the world. The more deeply one lives in the word, the greater the experience of the pathos evoked by the distance between its call and our human ways of living and being together.
This “conflict” between God’s way and the typical human way can be seen in today’s gospel episode of the cleansing of the temple. To fully appreciate what Jesus is doing, we need to turn to the allusion in the gospel story to Jeremiah 7.
Put no trust in delusive words like these: This is the sanctuary of Yahweh, the sanctuary of Yahweh, the sanctuary of Yahweh! . . . Yet here you are, trusting in delusive words, to no purpose! Steal, would you, murder, commit adultery, perjure yourselves, burn incense to Baal, follow alien gods that you do not know?–and then come presenting yourselves in this Temple that bears my name, saying: Now we are safe–safe to go on committing all these abominations! Do you take this Temple that bears my name for a robbers’ den? I, at any rate, am not blind–it is Yahweh who speaks.
Jeremiah 7: 7-11
Jesus “clears” the Temple in order to create a space for his word and his work. For Jesus, religious ritual and practice is not a “sanctuary” of self-justification and false security. The living word that he says is to become our home is one whose sweetness and sourness impels us to a loving contradiction of our way of living and our world. Human relationships and social structures will always be reflective of our sinful and selfish condition — and to the degree that we have made the “word” our home, we shall always find ourselves in loving conflict with them.
A couple of days ago a friend and I were speaking about the incredible income and wealth disparity in the United States. In the course of that conversation he asked a very troubling question: “And what are we to do about it?” The enormous wealth in the hands of such a small group of people has enormous effects on the lives of so many — nationally and especially globally. On Thursday Pope Francis called for a more just distribution of the world’s goods, calling it a matter of “dignity not charity.”
When we experience the sourness in our stomachs that the contrast between the life and word of Jesus and our way of living creates in us, “What are we to do about it?” Today’s readings do not give us the answer, but they do propose an ascesis: Don’t cover the symptom with antacid tablets. Don’t seek a sanctuary that obsesses about the insignificant, the ritualistic, the delusion of self-righteous piety. Perhaps by continuing to suffer our weakness and impotence and by sharing the call of the word with others, we may discover what we are to do, however small or large that contribution may be. We may discover what the word in our lives is calling us to change.
A trace of something unreconciled hovers over Christianity. To banish it would not be the expression of a strong faith, but rather of little faith. Do we believe in God, or do we believe in our faith in God, and in this perhaps really believe in ourselves, or in what we would like to think is true about us? But does not a faith that believes not only in itself, but in God, necessarily take the form of an incessant questioning in temporally charged expectation? Not vague or unfocused questions, but truly passionate and incessant questions belong to the passion for God with which we must come to terms today. Is there possibly too much singing and not enough crying out in our Christian spirituality? To much rejoicing and too little mourning, too much acceptance and too little regret, too much comfort and too little hunger for consolation?
Thinking particularly of young people today, these questions seem to me to be the decisive ones for our witnessing to God. They are inspired by Jesus’ first Beatitude, a Beatitude that is in no way meant only for an exhausted life, one looking only for some foothold and for security.
Johann Baptist Metz, A Passion for God, p. 159