Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Jesus Preaches in the Temple"

“Jesus Preaches in the Temple” from artist Douglas Blanchard’s series, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, and his book with author and blogger Kittredge Cherry. Copyright © by Douglas Blanchard. Used by permission.

Please join Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church in Atlanta for 11 a.m. Easter worship this Sunday, where I’ll be preaching on “Whose Resurrection Is It, Anyway?”

It took Douglas Blanchard’s painting “Jesus Preaches in the Temple” and Kittredge Cherry’s reflections on his series of 24 paintings of Jesus’ life, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, to remind me that scripture says several times that Jesus taught in the temple in the midst of the Passion narrative. Of course, most of us remember that when Jesus was “handed over” (betrayed) to “the powers that be,” he mischievously asked why they had not arrested him in broad daylight while teaching in the temple.

But I always pictured Jesus teaching to those whose life circumstances would have prevented them from entering the temple, like the man unable to walk asking for alms from Peter and John at the temple gate, told in the third chapter of Acts. In the name of Jesus, it says, they lifted him up “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”

I tended to imagine Jesus preaching to those outside the doors of the temple like this man, and his story serving as a metaphor for their welcome, their strengthened resolve to enter, and their resulting joy.

That Matthew, Mark, and Luke place Jesus’ teaching in the temple just after his angry outburst clearing it of merchants who provided for worshipers’ ritual needs (temple coins and animal sacrifices) suggests he was indeed creating space for temple outsiders.

In an early book, I explained how the space he cleared would have been the space in which those of us who have been excluded and marginalized might have gathered: Gentiles, women, LGBT folk, people with disabilities. I didn’t think of the immediate accessibility he provided those then considered unclean by religious scruples. Matthew specifically claims that those with disabilities then joined him in the temple (21:14)!

Jesus in Love blogger Kitt Cherry (a longtime friend) points out, however, that the artist has not placed Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, but in a Christian cathedral, made clear by the procession of crosses being carried by robed liturgists behind the immediate scene. A variety of people are drawn to Jesus “spellbound” by his teachings while seeming to ignore the formal worship behind them. Kitt asks, what would Christians do if Jesus entered their churches today? And I wonder, would they prefer to rest in peace in their traditions?

Some Christians are fond of asking, “What would Jesus do?” But the Passion narrative asks us, “What would we do?”

How often do we hand Jesus over to “the powers that be”: those who use Jesus to promote political or religious agendas anathema to what he taught? And how often do we pretend we’re not with Jesus, fearful that others might think we’re “one of them.”

And how often do we hang on Jesus’ words, reading and reflecting on what he taught?

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL people.” (Emphasis Jesus’)

Many thanks to Kitt and Doug! I’ve added another of Doug’s paintings to a previous post: Blessed Are the Prophets, a post which also appeared on the website of More Light Presbyterians this past Sunday.

Here are readings for the remainder of Holy Week:

Maundy Thursday:  Judas Kiss
Good Friday:            “Faggot” Jesus
Holy Saturday:         What God Did for Love
Easter Sunday:         Resurrecting Jesus

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  1. I love the way you show the similarities between Judas “handing over” the historical Jesus to be killed and people today “handing over” Jesus to Christian conservatives, allowing them to define what it means to be Christian. Too many LGBT people have lost their connection to God because of bigoted interpretations of homosexuality as sin and discrimination done in the name of Jesus.

    I also am fascinated by your ideas about Jesus teaching both outside AND inside the Temple. Yes, I agree that the historical Jesus must have been making more space on the inside for the outcasts. Maybe it’s obvious, but his act of teaching in the Temple shows that he reached out not only to outcasts, but also to insiders. Sometimes it’s the people inside the religious institutions who have lost touch with the true message of Christ. But he didn’t ignore them either.

    Your piece proves to me that there’s always more to discover in the Passion story and also in Doug’s paintings. Thanks for an insightful reflection and your kind words about my work (and the links).

    I added a link to this reflection to my post about the same painting at the Jesus in Love Blog.

    1. Thanks, Kitt, for adding the link and also the insight that Jesus was preaching to insiders as well as outcasts, which you also pointed out in your earlier reflection on this painting. The "suits" in the painting show consternation at Jesus, as you suggested in your meditation, but consternation may lead to transformation as you indicate in this reply. Thanks for your comment, and apologies for taking so long to publish it--I've been otherwise occupied!

    2. I have added your link to the main text of my post. Thanks!