The Third Sunday of Lent -- Year B.
John 2:13 -- 22
The Perfect Blemish
When we think of the Lord Jesus, we tend to think what he has done for us. How he has liberated human beings from the bondage of sin and death through his own death and resurrection. Sometimes we may forget that our Lord is the Lord of all creation. His sacrifice once for all had an impact on a religious system where sacrifice no longer became necessary. The following story is told from the perspective of one of the animals whose life Jesus saved.
“Ouch,” I cried. You should have seen the fire in his eyes. Again I felt the sting of the whip on my backside. “Ow!” I cried again, as the whip of chords fell upon me. My master was screaming then. "What are you doing? Stop that! Are you mad?" He then let go of me and I charged for the gate. I had had enough of being stung by that whip. Men dove out of the way as I raced through the temple searching for a way out, a way to escape from the whip, a way to escape from that place of death. Other Bulls joined the charge and soon the sheep would follow for they too felt the sting of the whip of that fiery man.
It was a glorious day. You can't imagine how I felt. I had escaped from the jaws of death. The temple was not a good place for us to be. Here on the fields with you is a much more glorious place. For here we feast on God's abundant provision, but there they feasted on us.
When I was born my mother was proud for I was without blemish. I was pure and stately, "a fine specimen", they said. My master saw in me a way to make a gain for himself, and so after less than two years he sold me to a merchant who took me to the temple.
I was proud to be chosen. I was proud to be singled out among my brothers and sisters, for I was a fine and beautiful young bull, suitable for the temple. This I had heard my master say about me.
You can imagine how honored I felt to be chosen out of the whole herd, as the one who would go to the temple of the Lord.
I willingly let my new master put a tether on me, and lead me to this glorious place, where only the best and most pure could go.
Oh it was a marvelous journey. I recorded in my mind every green pasture, every valley and hillside, hoping someday that I might visit them again, and taste their grass and wildflowers. We soon arrived in Jerusalem, and the sun shone golden on the great walls of the city. We ascended the hills, and entered the city and found our way to the outer courts of the temple. I must say I was quite disappointed, for I had expected, being such a fine bull, that I would be brought to the most glorious pasture in all of Israel. But instead I found stone under my feet with very little grass growing between the cracks. My fodder was stale hay and I had no room to roam, nor did I have the freedom to do so.
Around me were other beautiful bulls, and sheep, and doves. The finest in all of Israel, but like me, they too were trapped in small spaces and fed stale food.
Other Bulls were chosen before me to go into the inner courts of the temple. I saw them go in but not one of them ever came out. We all told stories of the beautiful pasture inside those walls, of the limitless grain, of the honor and glory we would have bestowed upon us. But you know, secretly we all knew that our stories were not true, for on occasion we would see blood on the knife of a priest as he strolled through the courtyard. And we could smell the smoke of fat and flesh being consumed by flames of fire, and we could hear the deadly bloodcurdling screams of some of our brothers in the morning, and evening, soon after they had been led within. As I said before, not one of those who went inside the inner walls of the temple ever came out.
I was next in line. I was the one chosen on that day. I had been offered to the priest and I was about to enter the inner sanctuary. I was about to see what I inwardly knew I didn't want to see. All my brothers in the marketplace watched me go forth. I tried to put on a good and brave face, so I held my horns high as the servant of the temple led me in. And that's when it all happened.
The man with the whip came bursting through the crowd as if out of nowhere. He yelled, "Stop making my father's house a market place."
I already told you I didn't wait around to feel his whip sting my flesh again. Blood was already dripping from my side, from the wounds now upon me made by his whip. Coins were flying everywhere. He drove us all out; all the cattle and the sheep, and he freed the birds as he turned over the tables. I rejoiced, all the animals present their rejoiced. All I wanted was to go home and to taste again the pasture of my youth. As I ran through the streets of the city and out into the plains beyond, all the people fled from my horns.
I kept fleeing past every green pasture, through every valley, and over every hillside that I had crossed on the way to Jerusalem. This time I had no desire to stop and taste the grass and wildflowers, I fled until I found my way home, and when I arrived I was welcomed back into the flock. My old master was surprised but he kept quiet about it. He even thanked God for my return and for his good fortune. But I was no longer perfect without blemish, for I was scarred on my hind quarters, being stung by the whip of the man whose name was Jesus of Nazareth. I was glad for the scars, knowing I would never be chosen to go to the temple again.
But did you know a greater thing and this happened. For the man with the whip would take my place, and the place of all bulls, and rams, and sheep, and doves. He himself would enter the inner Temple. His blood would be poured out. He would be sacrificed, and with his death the need for continual sacrifice would end. For he died once for all, so sin and death would lose their sting for ever. The chasm between God and this world was filled with his offering, and the veil between God and his creation was torn in two.
This is why we animals love him, for he saved us too. By offering his own body he saved us from ever again having to offer ours in the old way, in the old temple.
Oh, it was a great day: a day of rejoicing, a day of praise for all creation. And do you see these scars from his whip? They are more beautiful than any unblemished creature, for they show how much God loves us, how he longed to save us. They are like the scars on Jesus hands and feet which remind men and women of faith of all he was willing to give, so they with us could come to the greenest of all pastures, which is to live in the presence of his Father for ever. To the glory of God. Amen.