In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here!
Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" -John 2:14-16
I get a call from Oscar on the landline.*
[They were just called telephones back then].
Oscar and I know each other because we’re both in the martial arts club.
Once a week we beat each other up and then we go out for pizza.
We sit in the back of a pick-up truck with a $5 Little Caesar’s Hot ready.
And we eat.
And we look at the stars, if there are any.
And we talk about life.
And french fries.
Oscar likes to argue about belief and doubt and faith and religion.
And I like to argue back.
We become like family.
The time we spend is holy.
A temple in the back of a truck.
A weekly reprieve.
So, no doubt, we he calls,
I’m pretty stoked.
It’s hard to find good friends.
we’ll splurge for pepperoni.
But Oscar isn’t calling about a pizza run.
Tonight, he’s doing something I don’t think he’s ever done before.
Tonight, Oscar is calling a meeting:
In his dorm!
Oscar has something we all need to know about.
Something I need to know about, he says.
Me! ’Cause I’m his friend.
‘Cause I’m like his brother.
Because he cares about me.
This is something he doesn’t want me to miss, he says.
So, I write it down.
Next week. 6pm. Oscar’s dorm.
You know it’s a pyramid scheme when the first thing the presenter says
is “This isn’t a pyramid scheme.”
“This isn’t a pyramid scheme,” says a man in a shiny suit.
We watch his slideshow.
This was Oscar’s important meeting.
Because we’re like family.
Because I’m his friend.
Because he cares about me.
How could he possibly allow me to miss such an amazing opportunity?
A way to make thousands, says the man in the suit, Oscar smiles with pride and possibility twinkling in his eyes.
A way to make thousands in just a week!!!
It only takes a little bit of investment.
Oscar’s other friends and I—we’re stuck.
We showed up because—you know—it’s Oscar,
and Oscar is awesome.
But now perhaps because we are young, or perhaps because we are Midwestern, we’re afraid we’ll look rude if we leave.
We just sort of stare around at each other awkwardly during the presentation.
But we continue to sit. And we stay.
And we stay for three hours.
Three hours of “success stories”:
Three hours! Of some guy in Florida who sold a thousand boxes [of whatever] in a week and bought a yacht and now goes sailing every day.
Three hours! Of a young woman who these days drives a convertible for a car and paid off her student loans and visits Paris when she gets tired of the beach.
Three hours! Of a poor lonely man turned rich and surrounded now by young and beautiful friends at a pool party, sipping a cool drink, all because he invested the initial $19.99.
Three hours. We’ll never get back. Of stories and slides and money and the beach.
And it’s not just them,
Oscar takes the mic from his friend.
You too, my friends, my family,
you too, can get a piece of the action by buying this product from me! I sell it really cheap. And then other people buy it from you. And you get a ton of profit!
It’s wonderful! It’s fool-proof.
And—what’s better—this isn’t a pyramid scheme!”
I don’t remember what the product was.
I just remember that it was SO CLEAR that it was, indeed, a scam, a scheme.
And that we had just wasted three hours of our lives.
I also remember that from then on, Oscar was no longer my brother or my friend.
I mean, we tried. All of us tried.
But he was just constantly trying to sell us stuff.
Instead of faith and doubt and french fries,
he was all about the benjamins.
It’s all he ever talked about—buying and selling and convertibles
It seemed that all he ever thought about was money.
And the only kind of relationship he would ever entertain anymore was that of seller and potential buyer. A relationship that would make him money.
That was it—that’s all there was for Oscar.
He was "driven," as they say. A real Saint of Sales.
The rest of us joked that he had joined a cult.
But more so,
we lamented that we had lost our friend.
We lamented that something sacred had died.
Because, though he didn’t mean to,
Oscar had turned our Temple, our home, our chosen family
into a marketplace.
Jesus’ charge against the sellers and the moneychangers at the temple in Jerusalem today
is not about their profession.
He doesn’t say to them:
Go and sell—or go and make change—no more.
Not in this chapter.
This story is about location, about place—about where they were doing what they do to survive.
Incidentally, I think, it’s also about our calling as curators of sacred space—as Christians here in this place surrounded by all kinds of communities who may stop in at any moment looking for something, even a foretaste of God’s promised Reign.
This space, this Temple of God,
like any space that claims to be set aside as a house of worship, as a House of Prayer,
is charged with this sacred commission:
of being just that: a sacred home.
God’s house, we say.
How different this is from the marketplace.
Because in God’s house each person has deep,
and unlimited value
simply by virtue of being born,
loved and blessed by God.
We hold value here, in this place, this temple made out of community, simply because we are. Simply because we exist. Period.
There's nothing you can do to make God love you less and nothing you can do to make God love you more.
And if we are, if we exist, we are good, because if we are, God has desired us to be.
We as followers of Jesus
are charged with being God’s family. Here in this place. And acting like it (as best we can).
If nowhere else, at least here. Amen?
No buyers. No sellers.
No insiders or outsiders.
No last or first or first or last.
‘Cause when we’re family, we’re free.
At least in this place...
At least in this place,
we can talk about doubt and faith and romance and french fries.
We can look at the stars if they’re out.
We can laugh and pray ad sing.
We can share our things.
Break bread. Distribute it freely, so all can eat.
We can be a foretaste of what God desires the world to be.
In this space, we can all belong.
This is our Creator’s house.
And we are God's children.
This is our Creator's house, and we are family.
May God turn over any tables that keep us from this sacred calling.
*Names and details have been changed.