Of idols and whips.

The Propers for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Ecce Deus, adjuvat me

JMJ

TODAY’S COLLECT BEGS GOD to help us in our asking: let us only ask for the things we should. Let us only ask of the things that please then. The rest of the minor propers, though, seem to want God to smite our enemies. It seems counterintuitive given that we’re supposed to pray for our enemies. However, if we realize that the only enemies we have are the minions of the evil one then these verses make sense. In low Masses in the Extraordinary Form, we are used to praying to Saint Michael, asking him to “cast into hell Satan and all his evil spirits that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” This is the same thing: these are our enemies mentioned in the Introit and in the Alleluia. Asking God for help like this is one of the things that please him.

The Epistle gives us a list of things to avoid. At first glance it may seem like a regular list of sins: do not covet, do not be gluttonous, do not commit fornication. Yet, in fact, the Apostle sees all of these as subcategories of the first item mentioned: do not be idolators. Paul gives us reasons that each one of these is a subcategory of idolatry. He goes on to say that we should not tempt God with our idolatry, and then we should not murmur or complain for we will be destroyed by the one who destroys: that is the Evil One. And he counsels us not to be prideful to say we are standing – that is to trust in our own success -for it is God who is faithful.

What are these idolatries? Eating, sex, acquisition of things. These are normal things they become idolatries when we view them or use them in disordered ways. Fathers of the Church are very clear: it is disordered to acquire and not share. The father’s counsel us at the extra shoes we have in our possession and do not wear belong to the poor. The food that we have in storage that goes bad was food that we stole from the hungry. The clothes that we haven’t worn belong to the naked on the street.

All of these belong to God and have only been lent to us. God, whose name is magnificent above the whole of creation, as were reminded in the Gradual owns everything and has given us these things exactly to share. When we hoard, cling, or misuse, they become idols. The demons drive us to this distraction, but God will protect us from our enemies. (Alleluia)

In the Gospel we see two very different faces of God for he weeps over us for our idolatries. Then he scourges us.

Jesus weeps because Israel will not hear her promised Messiah speak. He knows and this deafness will continue. But then he goes to the Temple and purges it. While there are some who say that this was simply because no one should be doing business in the temple, that was not the case. The merchants were there with permission, in fact at the invitation of the temple itself. The individual Merchants were not making a profit for themselves, but rather for the Temple. Money that was stored in the Temple was able to be loaned to the poor for interest. Jesus was interrupting the entire economic system of oppression. Later, one of the first acts of the First Jewish-Roman War was the burning of the debt records in the archives.

The temple was holding on to its idols: and Jesus was driving them out, disrupting the system at its roots. Shortly after this moment in Jesus own life, the religious people of his day will call on the government people of his day to sending federal agents to defend government property. Arrested in an unmarked van, he will be dragged away for a secret trial and death.

This Gospel is not a comforting one when God is speaking to his chosen people and saying everything you see here will go away, for the sake of the Kingdom. The Church is the New Jerusalem. Jesus weeps over us for our sins for God is merciful and loves us. But he will not leave us alone in our sins. And, for the sake of our Salvation, he would rather destroy everything that has been built up that we might be purified and be his bride. We are in such a state right now, when everything is being destroyed and we have a choice: we can cling to our precious things, or we can recognize the visitation of God and repent.

Also, remember that our bodies are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist, sacramentally or spiritually, and he cleanses us. It’s not a comforting thing for he destroys the systems of Oppression that dwell within us. He overthrows the money changers that we have allowed to be set up by our enemies, the evil ones who would use us to oppress others, calling us in the name of “Law & Order” to oppose “Anarchy” we are opposing Jesus.

We should not be party to this. On the contrary, the Offertory Reminds us that God’s commands are joy to the heart and that his judgements against us are sweeter than honey. For his correction is, St Paul says, like a father to his son: God loves us and wants us to come to him as his children and if we will not learn in the good ways we still must learn.

In the Secret we again ask God, as we did in the Collect, to help us to pray: “grant that we may be worthily present” that the “work of our redemption” may be “made effective”. What is the work of our Redemption but the in-dwelling of justice and peace and wholeness in our lives, in our relationships with others, and in the world around us? The Communion carries this thought forward, reminding us that through the virtue of the Eucharist we abide in God and God abides in us. The communion of the Holy Trinity pours forth not just between us and God but between us and those around us. The Postcommunion prayer caps off this thought: may we be purified from sin and also united with each other.

This Sunday’s propers are a challenge to us. We struggle when we see the world hating Christians but that was all we were ever promised. Furthermore we struggle against what we think might be God’s judgment on us. But that is a sign of his love. The same God that drives the money changers out of our temples also weeps over us for our failures to understand. It is entirely possible to hear these texts as pointing only towards a historical event in the Earthly life of Jesus. But we miss that these texts are intended to have application in our present moment. The church is not worried that we might be selling books or candles in the back of the nave. Whether we are being called to not participate in systems of Oppression.

Yet, too often we find ourselves held up, elevated by those systems of Oppression: we make Idols of them. God will destroy them for us if we do not destroy them for him.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.