Psalm 48 and Matthew 5:35

Written by Jonathan Page, Pastor of Herndon United Methodist Church in Herndon, VA.

We humans love protection. We do a lot to keep ourselves safe, and, amazingly, it often chalks up to what we are wearing. Usually these are temporary measures like seatbelts in cars or steel-toed boots on worksites. There might be some measures that feel more permanent right now like masks in public spaces. The functions of what we wear are distinct as well. Consider the thoughts of stand-up comedian Demetri Martin around vests: “I think vests are all about protection. You know what I mean? Like a life vest protects you from drowning and bulletproof vests protect you from getting shot and the sweater vest protects you from pretty girls.”

Protection is so personal to us that we have to put it on. It becomes our most proximate line of defense, what keeps us safe when everything else is dangerous. In the 48th Psalm, there is an observation that protection isn’t just an individual effort; rather, in many cases, protection becomes the work of the community. The prayer of the Psalmist here is for the security of Jerusalem, for the protection of the temple. May God uphold these places in such a way that royalty cannot. It’s as if there is an anticipation of testifying to God based on God’s action to preserve what is known, what is there.

And yet what happens? The walls will fall. What has been built by people to protect will no longer serve that function. And in the midst of this, God’s vision will be greater.

I love the latter half of John 2. Jesus enters the Jerusalem temple to find all sorts of shenanigans going on. This is where the whole table-turning, people-chasing side of the Christ comes to life. This doesn’t please the Jewish leaders, who will ask Jesus by what authority he is doing “these things”. And how does Jesus respond? “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up” (John 2:19, CEB).

What he means by this is not the temple with walls of brick and stone, but this body of his that will die and be raised. This body that is vulnerable to the scourges and scars of whips and tattered cords. This body that will be a vehicle for the teaching and preaching and healing and grace-filled love of God. This body that has no seatbelts or boots or vests.

And yet when we can see the person of Jesus as the true temple of God, perhaps we find the protection we need. It won’t be something we point to with a sense of pride like we had something to do with it. It isn’t through anything our hands could do or build.

Instead, through the abundant and abiding love of God, born to tear down the walls and loose the chains to set a people free, there we will find everything we will ever need. To live in the auspices of this God is to be made vulnerable, exposed, and simple. But perhaps within this susceptibility is a different kind of susceptibility: to see our neighbors as a people to be loved more than feared. To see our possessions as means more than ends. And to see our God as greater than any temple or city or location. Maybe, just maybe, we would for once be susceptible to seeing God as God, eternal and right now. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen.

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