God's Word for today

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Let's get upset!

John 2: 13 - 22

At this morning's services, my message depicted Jesus as a "whistle-blower" - the one who raises their voice against injustice and corrupt practices. Now whistle-blowers are not the most popular people around. They are not popular with those whom they expose, for obvious reasons.

Less obvious is the fact that they are not popular with those around them, either. This probably stems from our history, where those who would betray those who participated in the struggle against apartheid to the security forces were branded as "impimpis" - tattletales, or stooges. Judas Iscariot would have been regarded as an "impimpi" of his day when he agreed to betray Jesus.

There is however this feeling of "impimpi" in most of us. Witness the situation when someone goes to a restaurant and their meal is served cold, or the order is wrong. No matter how gently and tactfully the person complains, there are always some who regard the complainant as an idiot, "making a scene" for nothing.

This is probably one of the main reasons why service levels in South Africa are so diabolical - because for the most part, we simply put up with it!

But there is a huge difference between an "impimpi" and a "whistle-blower". The whistle-blower is in fact a person of tremendous courage. For it is the whistle-blower who spots corrupt practices, and speaks out against them. It will be the whistle-blower who ends up reporting to the Competition Commission those involved in price collusion. If you are boasting around the braai about how clever you are in screwing SARS out of tax on your car allowance, it is often the whistle-blower who will be the cause of a nasty "please explain" letter from SARS landing in your postbox with a resounding thud.

So when Jesus cleared out the Temple, it wasn't with a quiet approach to the high priest: "Ahem ... please could you keep the noise down here; we're trying to worship", it was kicking over tables, whip in hand, yelling and sending money, livestock, and people scattering in all directions. I likened it to someone walking into church on Easter Sunday, kicking over pews, slapping the preacher, and barricading the parking lot. You'd better have VERY good reasons for doing something this drastic - as Jesus undoubtedly did.

This is not the "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" - that countenance is reserved, as the prayer continues, for the Jesus Who "looks upon this little child". These were not innocent little children in this case - they were mean, corrupt, manipulating so-called "leaders" who were using a practical need - the requirement to exchange currency - into an oppressive system designed to unjustly enrich those who are charged with its administration. They deserved the whip!

Now this is not a Scriptural licence to indiscriminately throw our toys out the cot at every turn. Jonah had the type of anger that festered and burned, resulting in God asking Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4, New American Standard Bible). Sometimes it's not for us to be angry - such anger is reserved for God alone. But sometimes we need to be filled with a righteous anger - an anger that wells up when we see injustice, and motivates us to bring about a change.

What about us as ministers? Do we expose corrupt practices, both within as well as outside the Church? Or do we keep quiet, not wanting to be seen as ecclesiastical "impimpis"? Or even worse - are we active participants in such practices? If we are following Option 1, our reward will be to hear Jesus saying, "well done, good and faithful servant". If Option 2, we need to repent quickly. And if Option 3, we should not be surprised if we feel the lashes of Jesus' whip, just as those in the Temple did on that fateful day.

Being a whistle-blower does not come without a cost. But if our Lord was prepared to pay that price, shouldn't we be as well?

I closed my message with this quote from Daniel Schowalter, professor of religion and classics at Carthage College in Wisconsin, USA, who writes that “Jesus in John’s Gospel is meant to be a controversial figure – certainly uncomfortable to be around! During Lent, comfort is not a priority. It may be that an encounter with the whip-bearing Jesus of John 2 is just the thing to prompt believers into asking anew the age-old questions; re-acquainting themselves with the dynamic, challenging, controversial Jesus. And deciding again what it means to follow Him”.

Lord Jesus, help us to recognise when it is appropriate for us to be angry. Help us to pick our fights carefully. Allow us to be motivated by the Holy Spirit, and used as Your hands and feet to bring about change where there is injustice in the world.

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