Exodus 20:1-17 •
Psalm 19 •
I Corinthians 1:18-25 •
John 2:13-22 •
There is something confounding about Jesus, and his actions in our Gospel today. As I prepared this sermon I felt that these passages are in some way about faith. However, as I pursued this idea that the Ten Commandments, God's foolishness being more wise than all human wisdom and Jesus driving money changers out of the Temple all point us to the nature of faith, giving expression to this thought has eluded me. I wonder if this experience of pursuing yet never catching hold is an aspect of the experience of faith. I do not mean that this experience is faith, but part of what it means to be a person of faith. I wonder if at times we are drawn into that which will elude us and be on the edge of our understanding and comprehension, and thus eludes a certain type of articulation.
I recently saw the movie "No Country for Old Men", at the end of the film I did not know what to think. I was at a loss, It was clearly an excellent film, not being familiar with the book upon which it is based I had not expected, the story line, nor the violence nor the ending and the lack of resolution. The movie ended and it had told its story and yet nothing was resolved. Things had happened, and things were different, things had come to a conclusion but nothing resolved. At the end of the movie I simply felt adrift at sea. The movie, its images and its story have stuck with me like few movies I have seen.
No Country for Old Men is many things, a horror film, a hunt and hunted film, but it is also a movie about a sheriff Tom Bell struggling to comprehend a world he thinks he knows turning more violent and incomprehensible: the unrelenting and at times seemingly random violence of a mob hit man is part of this changing world that Sheriff Bell can't comprehend. This inability to comprehend and control leads him to retire. The hit man believes in fate and that anyone who crosses his path is fated to die unless chance or fate says otherwise when he decides to flip a coin. Anton Chighur believes in fate and necessity and leaves a path strewn with dead bodies. Only one person in the movie refuses his sense of necessity and fate and throws his violence on him and his own choices, Mary Jean, Llewelyn Moss' wife. Bell can't comprehend such a criminal, at one point he is talking with a sheriff in El Paso about this. The Sheriff talks about how he would have never believed it if someone told him someday he'd see teenagers walking the streets in green hair, to which Ed Tom Bell responds "Signs and wonders!" Bell is looking for something, some sign that will allow this all to make sense somehow, and also refuses to fully enter the events to understand them because he does not want to be pulled into this new world of which he is also part, whether he wants to or likes it or not.
I want to sit with this feeling of speechlessness of confusion puzzlement and incomprehension. One way to interpret Paul is saying that what God did in Jesus Christ doesn't make sense. It leaves everyone dumbfounded that a crucified man could be the savior of the world and God in human flesh. And the stories of Jesus don't always make sense either, like the story of Jesus chasing out merchants and money changers from the temple, with a whip he made of cords. Neither the disciples nor Jewish leaders of the time understood Jesus actions, and left them scratching their heads and asking for explanations and proofs.
Jesus' actions are not always understood. Jesus becomes violent here, and it isn't in response to the Roman occupation and its injustices but in response to a practice that had grown up around the temple because many no longer own flocks or other animals for sacrifice, and even if they did many Jews came from lands very distant from Jerusalem and could not bring their sacrificial animals with them even if they had them. The practice Jesus objects to is one of acculturation and cultural and historical adaptation. But it is an adaptation that has negative consequences, sacrifice and worship has now become at least in part a commercial transaction, one in which one can surmise that some are making a profit off the worship of and sacrifice to the God of the universe. Jesus responds in a premeditated and measured violence against this affront to God and the worship of God, this adaptation to the times. The response of the leaders is one of bewilderment: How are people to offer the appointed sacrifices if they can't get the appropriate animals. Jesus' actions don't make sense and so they ask for a sign. Jesus, in a saying misunderstood and used at his trial to condemn him of blasphemy, says The sign he offers is his crucifixion and resurrection.
What Jesus offers as a sign Paul says is foolishness to everyone. What God did in Jesus Christ makes no sense. God's actions in history in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, leave us with a quizzical uncomprehending feeling based on human evaluations, whether cultural, political, or interpersonal. These logics run up against a wall in Jesus Christ. Faith makes connections beyond these. Faith does not demand signs. Faith works on a different logic than the wisdom of the world. What is the logic of our faith this way of the cross, this being open to God and God's ways? The sign Jesus offers is the sign of God's wisdom and action in the world, the logic of the cross and resurrection. That overcoming the world and death, means passing through death. Life comes only in its seeming loss. Why does the selling of animals for sacrifice and money changers in the temple contradict this logic and wisdom of God? This is not clear to those who observe Jesus' action, the cross and Jesus death as truly what saves and brings an end to evil and injustice, can baffle us especially when all these things did not cease to be. God's actions and wisdom don't always make sense to us.
However, this does not deny that there is a real, true and good human desire for things to make sense. It is the pursuit of truth, but it can also be, and usually accompanies this pursuit, the desire to be in control and thus to be able to predict. This is part of how the pursuit of knowledge in the hard sciences is to proceed ideally. In life , in faith, in following Christ this can be a barrier to truth and can lead to destruction, largely because the Truth we are ultimately seeking is God who is totally other. Yet it is also because control does not lead to understanding nor provide the resources needed to sustain oneself in life. This is part of what I am taking away from No Country for Old Men. The three main male characters all believe that in some way they are in control and in the course of the movie this unravels for them (thus the feeling of no resolution and being at loss at the end of the film), but in very different ways for each. Sheriff Bell control is having a world that makes sense, dealing with criminals he knows, terrain he can interpret actions that are predictable. For Llewelyn Moss Tom Bell understands his actions and motivations, but Anton Chighur and to a lesser degree the drug runners, actions do not make any sense and seem to have no reason behind them. Moss sees himself as someone in control through expertise of the hunt and his tenacity. Moss is in control through action ingenuity and perseverance. He is capable and resourceful and this will get him through any difficulty or challenge. Anton Chighur controls the world and comprehends it by being a simple force of fate, necessity and nature. As far as he is concerned his actions and every death simply follow the logic of consequence and necessity. Mary Jean Moss rejects this sense of control and in the face o her death becomes the strongest charter in the movie. Ed Tom Bell is offered through two dreams another world , an acceptance of limitations and of an offer of grace- but he must give up trying to make sense of it all and accept he isn't and never was in control, nor ever comprehended the world.