(Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 82; Ephesians 5:8-14; Luke 4:14-28)
Last Sunday, I stated in my sermon that any system could be corrupted because human beings are corruptible. I stated that we need to practice spiritual discernment as we go about our daily lives so that we are able to recognize corruption; otherwise, we will be victims or perpetrators of the corruption of those systems. I stated that it is to the Bible that we turn for spiritual discernment because the Bible contains God’s word. Just as Jesus turned to God’s word to refute Satan when Satan tempted him, we turn to God’s word to refute the world and its systems when they tempt us, for the world and its systems will tempt us to accept the corruption and injustice that are inevitable when human beings are in charge. Today, we’re going to take a look at the ways in which Jesus responded to the corruption with which he came into contact.
Let’s begin with corruption in individuals. As he traveled – preaching, teaching, and healing – Jesus came into contact with individual people. Jesus could see people clearly, so he knew people’s sins. For example, there was a rich, young man who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to follow the commandments. The rich, young man said he did. Then, Jesus told him to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and follow him. Jesus knew that greed was the rich, young man’s sin, and he confronted it. The rich, young man could not lay aside the sin of greed, and he went away sorrowful (Mk 10:17-22). The way that Jesus dealt with corruption in individuals was to tell the truth to them when asked. He didn’t lie. The spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he was to set the oppressed free (Lk 4:18). Sin oppresses, so Jesus named the sin, invited repentance, and provided a way for the person to heal.
Now, we will move on to corruption within societies. The society in which Jesus lived had many corruptions. Some of those corruptions were related to prejudices and boundaries. There were insiders and outsiders, the clean and the unclean, the acceptable and the unacceptable. A wonderful example of an encounter in which Jesus confronted prejudices and boundaries is the one with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was a Samaritan, one of a group of people with whom the Jews would not interact, and she was a woman, and men were not supposed to interact with women who were not accompanied by their fathers, brothers, or husbands. Jesus, as a Jew and a man, should not have interacted with her. And, yet, he did. He knew that she needed to be freed from her sins, so he put aside the prejudices and boundaries of his society and interacted with her. The spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he was to proclaim freedom for prisoners. She was imprisoned by her society and her sins, so Jesus crossed societal boundaries and reached out to her to offer repentance and provide a way for her to heal.
Many of the corruptions in the society in which Jesus lived were related to power. There were political and religious authorities who had power and who wanted to retain their power, despite what was best for the people they ruled over. Jesus went about setting people free from whatever oppressed or imprisoned them, and the political and religious authorities feared that he would get too powerful and that they would lose their power. They decided to bring him down, one way or another. They challenged him in public, over and over again. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and they accused him of faithlessness. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and they accused him of faithlessness. They asked him tricky questions about the Jewish religion to try to trip him up and reveal that he was faithless. They were relentless. Each time, Jesus had just the right words to stop them in their tracks. Jesus was educated in his faith. He knew the scripture, the traditions, and the exceptions to the traditions, and he used that knowledge to say just the right thing to nullify the authorities’ attempts to besmirch him. The spirit of the Lord was upon him, and they could not oppress or imprison him with their accusations and traps.
So far in our examples, Jesus has used words to deal with the corruption with which he came into contact. But, there was one time when he used his body, and that was when he upset the tables of the moneychangers and drove the merchants out of the temple. Some scholars understand this as Jesus displaying righteous anger at what he saw as corruption; others understand this as a prophetic act that foreshadowed the fact that once Jesus was crucified and resurrected, there would be no need for the temple system of animal sacrifices. Jesus would become both ultimate sacrifice and ultimate priest, replacing the temple system. Since the temple system was dependent on moneychangers and merchants selling animals to be used as sacrifices, the moneychangers and merchants were not, actually, corrupting anything by being in that area of the temple. Therefore, this is not an instance of Jesus responding to corruption; rather, it is Jesus acting prophetically.
This interpretation of the cleansing of the temple is in line with Jesus’ commitment to nonviolence in the rest of the Bible. Jesus didn’t force people; he invited them: to follow him, to repent, to give to the poor and needy. And, when violence was directed toward him, he either escaped – as in the scripture reading today from the Gospel According to Luke – or he submitted – as he did after he was arrested, a submission that led to his death. Jesus would not respond with violence because to do so would not be in line with the way and the will of the God of Love. All of the ways in which he responded to corruption were nonviolent.
What did Jesus do when confronted with corruption? We have seen that he: 1) told the truth when asked; 2) put aside societal prejudices and boundaries and risked censure in order to meet people’s needs; 3) was educated and so could answer intelligently and effectively when his opponents tried to accuse and trap him; and 4) refused to be violent. In all of the ways Jesus responded to corruption, he showed great faith and courage. He knew what God required of him and he had the courage to do what was required regardless of the consequences.
The passage from Micah states that God requires us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (6:8). When we walk humbly with God, God guides us, even when we are confronted with corruption in ourselves, in others, in our society, or in other societies. 1) If we see corruption in ourselves, we know that we can repent and ask God to forgive and heal us. 2) If we see corruption in others and they haven’t asked us for advice, then we can ask God to guide us as to whether to tell the truth as God has revealed it to us anyway. The guiding principle in making that decision is what the effect of our honesty would be. Would the relationship be harmed so that further ministry would be prevented? Or, is the person ready to hear the truth as God has revealed it to us? If the person has asked for advice, we can tell the truth as God has revealed it to us in love. Above all, we need to ask God to guide us in our dealings with individuals, because we are not God so are not omniscient nor are we to judge. We should ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as in our dealings with others so that we don’t harm them or the relationship. 3) If we see corruption in our society, then we are to summon the courage to act in line with our faith, as Jesus did, despite the consequences. Prejudices and boundaries that create insiders and outsiders, the clean and the unclean, the acceptable and the unacceptable are not in line with our faith. They are not merciful, and God requires us to love mercy. The abuse of power oppresses and imprisons unjustly, and God requires us to act justly. We are not to stand idly by while others are oppressed and imprisoned by the abuse of power. 4) If we see corruption in other societies, we can respond in various ways. We can respond with goods and services that will meet the needs of the oppressed. We can welcome those escaping from oppression. We can pray for the oppressed. We can become missionaries to those areas.
One thing we are not to do in all of these instances of responding to corruption is be violent. We worship the God of love who chose to die on a cross rather than return violence with violence. There is plenty we can do without becoming violent in our words and deeds. As the Letter to the Ephesians states, we “were once darkness, but now [we] are light in the Lord. [We are to] live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (5:8-10). We are to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness, but have nothing to do with them (5:11). Therefore, we are not to be destructive; rather, what we say and do should be constructive. Our words and deeds should be building blocks in constructing the kingdom of God on earth as we deconstruct the kingdom of darkness on earth. What Jesus did is a clear guide for us: He acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God in all the ways he responded to corruption. May his example inspire and guide us as we seek to be his faithful disciples. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, June 17, 2018.