This marks a first for me and for my “Just Thinking” blog: Since I started it in 2008, the content has been solely a product of what I happened to be, appropriately enough, just thinking. But recently I came across a brief devotional message by my longtime friend, Mike Connor, that impressed me so much I wanted to share it with all those – many or few – who kindly read my writings. It was part of a collection of reflections his church, St. John’s Lutheran in Salisbury, N.C. and a sister church in Bethlehem, Israel, Christmas Lutheran, compiled for the Advent season. Here is Mike’s meditation, and I’ll follow it with a few comments of my own:
“Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling…. Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them” (Matthew 21:12,14).
“As a child, I was quite impressed with ‘The Cleansing of the Temple’ account. I imagined Jesus standing up to the bad guys, very similar to the inevitable saloon fights depicted in old TV westerns. Even now, I still focus on Jesus banishing the bad elements from the temple and concluding with His scripture, ‘My house was designated a house of prayer; You have made it a hangout for thieves.’ We understand these merchants and money changers were personally profiting and thereby detracting from Temple’s true purpose, but their removal is not the end of the story. This bold action of Jesus makes room for those who were being excluded. At that time, the blind and other individuals with disabilities were marginalized. Many believed that personal disabilities were a result of sin and a sign of God’s disfavor. The compassion of Jesus is radically counter-cultural.
A St. John’s friend recently encouraged me to consider how this scripture relates to us as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. What is taking up space in my life and impeding spiritual growth? I have to confess that I live a privileged life and would like it to stay that way. I also want this for loved ones. It is natural to desire good health and a problem-free life, but when I’m not careful this focus takes up too much space in my spiritual walk. I’m open to God’s direction, as long as it doesn’t disturb my plans.
When I admit my brokenness and seek healing, I’m making more room for the Holy Spirit. These experiences occur in both personal contemplation and intimate fellowship with others. It’s a true blessing to be in relationship with people of faith who are open about their brokenness. I’ve had the privilege to experience this with loved ones, including Palestinians living in the West Bank. Jesus calls us to be selfless and compassionate, but we need not consider it a command or something we “should do.” Rather, we find our true soul when we relinquish our selfish egos. We create space for the Holy Spirit to work both in ourselves and throughout our community.
Dear Lord, we thank you for your Son’s compassion. We confess the many times we hold onto our selfish desires and block your Holy Spirit’s creative power. Help us focus on selflessness so that we may grow in our relationship with you and further your kingdom. Amen.”
– Mike Connor
Frankly, what impressed me first about my friend’s meditation was the rendition of Matthew 21:12,14. It’s taken from The Message, a Bible paraphrase by Eugene H. Peterson. It says that once Jesus evicted the profiteers – other translations term them “money changers” – then “there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. Then they came to Jesus and he healed them.” I had never seen this passage phrased in this way before, and it struck me like the proverbial ton of bricks.
Although we weren’t there when Jesus did chased out the Temple retailers, I suspect we’ve all experienced something similar, both in our personal lives and in our congregations. Getting so caught up in self and our wants can hinder us from advancing spiritually. As Mike wrote, “I’m open to God’s direction, as long as it doesn’t disturb my plans.”
And our churches, many of them featuring slick media presentations, high-tech musical equipment, and carefully crafted worship formats: Have we become so professional, so well-programmed that we leave no room for “the least of these,” as Jesus described the hungry, the thirsty, the poor and needy, the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25:34-46)?
Are you thinking this doesn’t apply to you or your situation? Well, how do you respond when God sees fit to disturb your plans? Or how would people in your congregation react if, midway through a worship service, a group of homeless people walked in, a heavily tattooed addict stumbled toward the altar, or a prostitute sat down next to you? As I write this, I find myself convicted. Is there room for the crippled and blind to get in?