Lent Reflections 2024: Lent 3 – Interrupting Business as Usual

Lent Reflections 2024: Lent 3 – Interrupting Business as Usual

Jean Burgess, Archdeacon of Bournemouth, reflects on John 2:13-22, the passage where Jesus overturns the tables in the Temple, and its invitation to allow Jesus to interrupt our lives this Lenten period, bringing healing and hope…

Text below:

The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism, the centre of worship and music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning. It was the place where you would find more animals (alive and dead) than anywhere else. And towering above all, it was of course the place where Israel’s God YHWY, had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation and of the national way of life. And this was where the unknown prophet from Galilee came in and turned everything upside down.

I don’t think this is just about the presence of money changers and animals in the temple courts. Jesus surely had to know they were there; he grew up as a faithful Jew going to the temple. I just cannot imagine he turned up on this particular day and said, “Wow! Look at all the traders in the temple court yards!” That is how the temple worked, it was business as usual for them.

Business as usual; I wonder whether that is the crux of the matter. During the isolation of COVID many of us longed to get back to business as usual. What does it really mean to have business as usual? Is it always God’s best?    

Have you ever felt that you were on auto pilot, just going through the motions – that’s business as usual. Have you ever smiled that “I’m good and everything is fine,” smile but behind it is sadness, emptiness, maybe your heart was breaking? That is business as usual. Ever been in a situation where boredom overcame creativity, where wonder, imagination and enthusiasm have disappeared, that’s business as usual.  

Business as usual can happen in friendships, marriages, parenting, work and church.

The things I have described are not the problem but the symptom. Just like the money changers, we are not the problem.

They are a symptom of something much deeper.

What gives rise to business as usual?

It can be, when we are fearful about what is happening in our lives or uncertain of the future, we want security and predictability; we long to cling to the same old things. Business as usual seems predictable and steady, but business as usual only creates the illusion of security, leaving unaddressed what lies beneath.

Perhaps grief and sorrow – when something precious is lost, we cling to business as usual because it is familiar – but is it healthy, will it make us whole again? When life’s turned into one task after another, maybe business as usual is all we believe that we can do – is this healthy, will this bring us rest?

How do we avoid business as usual becoming the baseline for our lives?

There may be many reasons why we fall into the business as usual attitude to life, but I would like suggest that forgetfulness is one of the major causes.

In the circumstances of life, it can be easy forget that we are God’s children. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, therefore we are never alone.

We forget that all of creation displays the presence and Glory of God.

When circumstance are tough we can forget that when God is for us, who can be against us.

As soon as we forget these things about ourselves, about others and about the world, then life can slip into business as usual. I think that is what happened in the temple – worship had become about the animals, the coins and the ritual. They had forgotten that God is far more interested in them than in their festivals or their offering. I love that we are shown time and time again in the gospels Jesus interrupting, disturbing, overturning business as usual.

Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, think of the paralysed man unable to reach the pool for his healing – Jesus interrupts, commands him to stand up and the business of life was never the same again; think of Lazarus, Jesus interrupts even the business of death – “Lazarus come out.” Death no longer has the final word.

Jesus continues to overturn tables and interrupt our lives today, there are still women and men waiting at the well who are thirsty, there are still lame and hurting people wanting a touch to be healed, there are still the hungry physically and spiritually, longing to be filled and whole.

Maybe today it is you who are thirsty, you are paralyzed and ground down with business as usual, maybe the circumstances of life have left you feeling alone and empty.

What do you, what do I, need today – are there tables that need to be overturned in the temple of our lives? Emptiness filled and hunger satisfied so that we too can live lives that are very much not business as usual.