I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that when I was a teenager, I was really into dream interpretation. I took classes about dreams and kept a little notebook with stars on the cover by the side of my bed with a flashlight so that in the middle of the night, if I woke up, I could quickly jot down the details of my dreams before they evaporated. I was told that in order to remember my dreams better, so that I could analyze them more closely, I should say out loud ten times before going to be “I will remember my dreams. I will remember my dreams!” so I did. And the more invested I became interpreting my dreams, the more I was actually able to remember them. I even got to a place where as I was dreaming, I was also thinking to myself in my dream “wow, I can’t wait to analyze this tomorrow!”
In a lot of ways it was a helpful lens to make meaning of some of the things that were stirring in my conscious and subconscious life; but of course some of the strategies I learned for interpreting dreams were also just completely wacky and ridiculous. For instance: if you have a dream where your teeth fall out, you are afraid of losing something important. Or if there’s an armadillo in your dream, you might be putting up walls between yourself and others. In the world of dream interpretation, everything is supposed to symbolize something that can help us understand ourselves better. And while for the most part I no longer invest quite so much stock in my dreams, there is one thing that I continue to find very meaningful, and that’s the belief held by many dream interpreters that everyone in your dreams actually represents you.
So let’s say you have a dream where you are in a very confusing maze running from a giant purple rabbit, and you’re heart is racing, and you’re running and you’re running, and you’re sweating, and then all of the sudden your high school geometry teacher appears and helps you devise a mathematical formula to figure out the maze and then together you outsmart the giant rabbit with a giant carrot while you safely make your way to the maze’s exit.
Well, as many dream interpreters would have it, the rabbit might represent something about yourself or your experience that you are running from. The math teacher who intervenes to save you also represents something about the power of your intellect or your own capacity to find a way where there seems to be no way. Even the dark maze might represent a feeling of confinement in your life that you might be wise to pay attention to. Each of these characters, and even the setting itself, reflect something about ourselves back to us, and this can be a helpful reminder to pause for self-reflection.
As I was reading over the gospel for this week, where Jesus storms into the temple and overturns the money changer’s tables and tosses their coins onto the ground, I thought to myself: finally, a straight-forward message to work with: Jesus gets all riled up about wealth and consumerism, he charges in with his whip and unleashes a wave of prophetic righteous anger, and through his actions he is a model for us: we should be riled up about consumerism! We should unleash our prophetic and righteous anger into the world that so desperately needs to be transformed! End of story.
But not so fast. Let’s rewind a bit and trace Jesus’ journey before he enters the temple: Jesus, along with other Jews, was preparing for Passover, a time when they would commemorate God’s liberation of their people from slavery in ancient Egypt. So Jesus is going to the temple, to God’s dwelling place on earth, to have some quiet, reflective time. And as the story goes, when he arrives the place is full of people and animals and loud noises and clanking coins. And why all the commotion? Well, in this time there was an enormous expansion going on at the temple in Jerusalem, and a temple tax was being imposed to help pay for the construction. And because the temple tax had to be paid in a certain currency, people from all of these areas surrounding Jerusalem would come to have their local currencies exchanged by the money-changers. And because the temple also needed sacrificial animals, people would also come from far and wide with their prized calves and unblemished doves in order to sell them to the temple. So, in a sense, all of the commotion, all of exchange of money and other goods that Jesus was so angry about, were actually part and parcel of what made the temple run. The money-changers were trying to do the right thing to ensure the success of the temple.
Jesus’ frustration seems to be in the fact that all of this commerce has become so commonplace in the temple that no one seems to question it anymore: instead of supporting the temple so that it can be a place where people practice their religious rituals and spiritual devotion, the changing of money and the buying and selling of perfectly unblemished animals has become a ritual of devotion in and of itself: but to what end?
And this is where my dream interpretation strategy comes in: you see my own tendency in stories like this one is to align myself with what I think is good and righteous, but to fail to see how the money-changers might show me something of myself, too. But like the money-changers, I constantly get into patterns of thinking or behaving that I’ve failed to question. Like the money-changers, I constantly participate in rituals of devotion that glorify time or money or perfection or tradition over the God who dwells within me and around me. And aren’t we all, like the money-changers, trying to do the right thing but sometimes getting a little confused along the way?
The good news is that if the money-changers show us something of ourselves, so too does Jesus. And I’m not suggesting here that we all run down to the mall with our whips and chords and stir things up. I do think, though, that we are all prophets, that each of us have had unique encounters with God that have revealed something to us that is worth sharing with others. And like Jesus, we have all been frustrated or fed up at times with the status quo, and we have been moved in various ways to call attention to injustice in its many forms.
But until we see ourselves as the money-changers, as the one’s in need of transformation ourselves, it seems to me that our prophetic voices will be stuck in a place of anger that is at best unproductive, and at worst toxic to ourselves and those around us. While our own anger tends to position us against the world, the anger that Jesus exhibits in the temple invites self-reflection, and invites us to see ourselves fully within the world that so desperately needs transformation.
In order to be the one’s who speak God’s truth, we must also understand ourselves as the ones in need of God’s truth. When we see ourselves in others and in the systems that surround us, then I think our anger becomes something we can really work with. When we turn inward, transformation becomes something we know intimately and not abstractly. And when we know transformation on a deep and personal level, I think the transformation of the world becomes inevitable.
So I’ve talked about what I think is at stake for us individually in this gospel, but I wonder, what’s at stake for us as a community here? Over and over again in the last few months I’ve heard the same powerful refrains here: we are a laboratory for mission. We are a place where trying and failing is part of our DNA, change is a part of who we are on a fundamental level…We are a community that understands that transformation is hard and holy work, and we are committed to supporting one another in doing that work. I think this gospel reaffirms our deeply-held sense that the church ought to be a place where we are willing to be transformed, and to have old habits examined, in order to dedicate ourselves, our space, and our resources in the service of God.
Here is my second question: what does this all have to do with the Christ’s resurrection? In a lot of the gospels, vague foreshadowing takes place to point us in the direction of the cross. But in this passage, it is quite clear that Jesus is telling others about the fate that awaits him. At the temple he is asked for a sign: why should we listen to you, they say. Why should we believe that you are a prophet? And Jesus tells them that if the temple is destroyed, cleansed, he will raise it up in three days. The passage goes on to say: Jesus is not really talking about the temple. He is “speaking of the temple of his body.”
Here too we find ourselves in the story: especially in this wilderness season of Lent, aren’t we each looking for signs of transformation within us and around us? Aren’t we all a little reluctant when we feel the tug of change?
We are reminded here that on our own journeys, we can’t just take a shortcut to resurrection. There is no secret passage-way that will allow us to arrive at Easter unchanged. If Jesus’ body will be broken and torn down like the temple, and we are part of Christ’s body, then we too must work to take stock of our lives, and to rebuild and regenerate in whatever ruins we might find ourselves in.
My prayer for us today is this:
That Christ appears in the temple of our hearts,
That signs of the resurrection surround us,
And that we hear our own lives in the word that Jesus has spoken.