I am writing this while on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is home to Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is the highest point in all the islands.
It has always been sacred land to Native Hawaiians. In more recent history, this same peak has drawn the interest of the global scientific community who would like to build an 18-story telescope at the top, over and against the strong objections of the indigenous community.
As a Pacific Islander, I am always paying particular attention to what our islands are suffering at the hands of “progress.” It’s not just paving over sacred locations, our islands are experiencing rising sea levels, coastal soil erosion, and an increase in global temperatures. Some islands are literally disappearing to the point that we now have “climate refugees” — people forced to leave their homelands due to the decisions made by others in faraway places.
Without a complete and total change in how the global community acts, I fear it may be too late; the violence we have done to creation may already be too much. I hope I’m wrong.
To address the root of this violence would require nothing less than a transformation in the way we see our relationships — our connection to community, creation and even God.
Stone by Stone
In today’s passage, Jesus directly addresses the temple system, and I believe, calls for a transformation in how we see God and how we relate to others and all of creation.
According to some historians, the temple system made up 80% of the economy in Jerusalem. It took a lot of resources to run that system, least of all the thousands of innocent animals used for sacrifices.
Our passage begins this way:
“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God …”
‘… the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Jesus interrupts their adoration of the temple with a litany of things that all sound like bad news: famine, plagues, national and international strife, the forewarning of arrest, persecution, imprisonment and betrayal by family and friends. And to top it all off, “you will be hated because of my name.”
So Where is the Good News?
Tucked away in all of this bad news, there is a transformative statement in verse 13 that gets lost:
“This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
Testify to what? All we’ve heard is bad news!
The temple, a slaughterhouse of innocent animals, in all of its beauty had actually become a place of violence — committed against God’s creation and done in God’s name.
Did God truly desire this system of sacrifice? I know that’s a risky question because I can feel the knot in my stomach as I ask it. Let me state it differently, “Is it possible we projected onto God what WE actually desire?”
Is this really the only way to deal with sin? Hosea answers it this way:
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God, not your burnt offerings.”
A Third Way
There is another way, a third way. It’s the way of mercy, not sacrifice.
Perhaps this is what we are to testify to … the third way Jesus himself incarnated. At the cross, God absorbed into God’s self, in the body of Christ, all violence. God absorbed it, and did not return it. God suffered violence for all time and for all situations. And in doing so, he showed us a way out of the cycle of violence. Whether it’s the violence of revenge, of scapegoating or of greed borne of scarcity that drives us to exploit our communities and creation — We Have Been Freed!
Could the Church find its witness by relating to the world from our newfound freedom? As agents and ambassadors of God’s mercy, could the Church absorb the hurt, pain and violence of our communities without returning violence and judgement? By doing so, could we help transform wounds into wombs of new life that alter how we see and relate to God, one another and all of creation?
For the sake of the Church, and life itself, I pray we have ears to hear Jesus’ invitation to a different way!