Sun, Mar 04, 2018

Anger and apathy


In Two Thousand and Five...

Anthony and Chrissie Foster were in the midst of a protracted legal battle...

with the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Years earlier, their two daughters--

who had attended a Catholic primary school--

had both been repeated raped by a paedophile priest at the school.

In response, the Archdiocese had offered them fifty-five thousand dollars compensation for each daughter.

Considering that to be manifestly inadequate, they sued the Church.

In response, the Church reversed its previous position and denied that the girls had ever been abused.

At the time, one of their daughters had brain damage--

having been hit by a car while drunk;

while their other daughter was trapped in a cycle of depression, drug-abuse, and self-harm.

She eventually committed suicide in Two Thousand and Eight.

It's now come to light that...

at the time when the Archdiocese was fighting the Fosters' compensation claim...

they spent one point six five million on a Georgian mansion for the Archbishop...

in the leafy, prestigious suburb of Kew.

And, about the time that the Fosters' daughter committed suicide...

the Archdiocese also bought a beach house in a resort town...

for the exclusive use of the Archbishop...

for almost nine hundred thousand.

All up, the Archdiocese spent two and a half million dollars on property...

for the sole benefit of the Archbishop--

a sum that's equivalent to a quarter of the total amount paid to abuse survivors under its redress scheme.


Whenever I hear those sorts of thing I get angry.

I get angry when the Church fails to reflect the loving nature of God.

I get angry when people abuse or exploit other people in the name God.

And I think that it's only right that we do get angry...

that we speak up...

and that we demand that those responsible be called to account.

And why not?

Don't we have a perfect example of that in this morning's reading?

"Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple...He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables...'Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!'"

Let's make no bones about it-

Jesus was furious.

This is not a Jesus-meek-and-mild.

This is someone passionately outraged by exploitation and injustice...

and by the abuse and manipulation of ordinary people.

Ironically, none of those involved in the exploitation thought that what they were doing was wrong--

quite the opposite.

What they were doing was legitimate--

even legal--

and worship couldn't happen without it.

After all, some of their religious rites required animals for sacrifice...

which meant that people needed to purchase them.

Selling them at the Temple was a way of ensuring that things happened properly--

that people had the appropriate sacrifices...

and that they were in proper condition.

That's what the Hebrew Law demanded.

The moneychangers were also serving an important function.

It would have been inappropriate to use Roman money in the Temple. 

After all, those were coins that bore the image of the Emperor on them--

often with an inscription proclaiming him a god.

You couldn't offer that to God--

it was offensive...

even blasphemous.

It was only right and proper that it was changed.


And probably, in the beginning, that's how it all started--

with the best of intentions.

But, over time, things changed.

It took on a life of its own--

as these sorts of things so often do.

For those supplying the livestock for sacrifices...

for those exchanging money...

it had become a lucrative way to make a living.

The whole thing had begun to resemble a market or country fair--

not a place of worship.

But, in the process, poor peasants were being ripped off and exploited.

The religious leaders weren't innocent in all of that.

They turned a blind eye to the corruption--

silently acquiescing with the injustice and abuse--

if they weren't actually taking kick-backs themselves.

Practices that had begun as good and necessary had become ends in themselves...

rather than a means to an end.

But, then again, so had the Temple.

It had gone from being a means to worshipping God--

through its beauty and magnificence--

to becoming an object of devotion itself.

And, even worse than that, it had become an instrument of oppression and abuse...

under the veneer of legitimacy.

Jesus was furious--

and why not?

Who could blame him for doing what he did--

even if it was only an act of protest...

which would have produced no meaningful long term change.



in the other Gospels, this story comes right at the end.

It's the last straw--

the ultimate reason why Jesus is killed.

But, in John's Gospel, it comes at the beginning.

The author has played down some of the political implications...

softened the hard social-justice edge...

and presented it more as an example or a parable...

challenging his readers to consider their own practices:

how they go about worshipping God...

and whether their rules and practices are a means of exploitation and abuse...

or whether they're consistent with the God whom we encounter in Jesus Christ--

a God who identifies with the poor...

the weak...

the vulnerable...

and the exploited;

a God who always puts people ahead of rules;

and a God who is angered by abuse and exploitation...

especially when it's perpetrated in God's name.


So, what relevance does all that have for us, today?

None of us are involved in exploitation and abuse--

not directly.

But, through our complacency, are we complicit?

Are we unwitting accomplices?

Do any of our practices, as a church, cause harm or send the message that God doesn't care?

Is the tea and coffee that we serve FairTrade?

As individuals, what about our chocolate--

especially with Easter fast approaching--

is it also FairTrade?

What about our clothes?

Do we buy FairWear clothing or do our clothes come from sweatshops?

Do we take a stand on issues such as child labour,

human trafficking...

or the appalling conditions in our off-shore detention gulags?

By our apathy, silence, and inaction, do we allow abuse and injustice to continue?

As the saying--

often attributed to Edmund Burke-- 


"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing".

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