I don’t know if “unlesses” is a real word but I am using it as a noun and the plural of unless. We all have our “unlesses.” They’re about how and what we see. They are the restrictions, limitations, and conditions that shape and inform our relationships and understanding of each other, Jesus, and ourselves. Jesus has his "unlesses" too. Unless is the hinge around which we either see or do not see Jesus.
Some of the funniest and most terrifying aspects of my life are my self-contradictions - the contradictions with which I live, the contradictions that live within me. My wife would probably say they are more aggravating and frustrating than funny. Most days my life is a living contradiction between what I say and what I do, what I think and what I say, the values I claim to hold in my life and the way I live my life. My guess is that you have contradictions in your life too. I don’t think they’re unique to me. What if every contradiction is a messenger telling us about a deeper truth?
I think business as usual is the issue. The animals and money changers are not the problem. They are the symptom that something else is going on. I think Jesus went to the temple that day for one purpose and with one intention; to throw out and overturn business as usual. There are times when we need the tables of our life overturned and the animals thrown out. It’s just so easy to fall into the trap of business as usual.
In some ways the past year has felt like a long never ending season of Lent. It has been a time of fasting, self-denial, and giving up; a time when people and things have been lost or taken from us; a time that is continually pointing to our mortality and the fragility of life. What are you doing with all that? And what is all that doing with you? Unless we face our own mortality we can never claim the fullness of life. Unless we recognize the fragility of life we will never discover its true value.
Ash Wednesday - Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” That’s the last line of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” I had never thought of my life…
"The rose has no why; it blossoms because it blossoms. It pays no attention to itself, nor does it ask whether anyone sees it."
What if we were to live like the rose, without a why? What if we blossomed simply because we blossomed. What if there was no motive or seeking to our blossoming; to be noticed, to be praised, to accomplish? What if we fragranced the world because we couldn’t do anything but fragrance the world? The rose is going to do what it’s going to do regardless of whether anyone sees or smells it. It’s beauty and fragrance are not means to an end. It has no why.
Maybe Lent and the gospel of Jesus are not primarily about being good, a program for changing from a bad person to a good person, so we can get a future reward. I’ve got nothing against being a good person (whatever that might mean) but I’ve never read where Jesus said, “I came that you might be good, better, an improved version of yourself.” What I have read is that Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Throughout the gospel he shows himself to be giving life, revealing life, and calling to life. And that’s not about tomorrow, after you die, or some heavenly future. “Now is the day of salvation,” Paul tells us (2 Corinthians 6:2). Now, in this time and in this place. Life is now.
Seeing Jesus isn’t a spectator sport. It is a way to be followed, a truth to be embodied, a life to be lived. It's being a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies so that it might bear much fruit. That's where we see him. It's the letting go, the emptying, the leaving behind, and the dying that makes space for new life to arise.
The serpent that bites and kills and is also the serpent that heals and give life. That doesn't make sense but what if that's really how it is? What if the snaky places are not so much places to escape but places from which soul-medicine arises? Can opposites really coincide in that way?
I don't think this story is simply about Jesus getting angry. Jesus got angry. I get angry. It's ok to get angry. That misses the point. There’s more to this story than that. And I don't think it's about the animals or the moneychangers being in the temple. Jesus surely had to have known they were there. He grew up as a faithful Jew going to the temple. He didn't show up this day and say, "Wow! There are animals and moneychangers here. I didn't know this. This is wrong." The animals and moneychangers had always been there. That's how the system worked. It was business as usual for them to be there.