Force of habit. Comfort of the known. We find ourselves settling into routines because they do not require that we rethink everything we do every time we do it. It works. It frees us from paralysis by analysis, frees us to think about the new and the exciting in other areas of our lives. Who could function without a reasonably consistent morning routine, one that begins before the coffee is brewing? Routines make it possible to do essential things for ourselves and those immediately around us without draining us of the mental energy we will need to meet the often non-routine challenges that just might accompany the new day. But can we afford to allow faith to become routine?
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
There’s something insidious about routines, especially when they are corporate endeavors, ones that we participate in with other people. We test a different, perhaps easier or more efficient way of doing what we thought we were doing. Sometimes it works well and becomes a new, more meaningful routine; sometimes it feels good for a while, but turns on us after time. Quite often the change becomes not just a single adjustment, but a catalyst for a whole series of changes, the value of which is never fully evaluated because the pieces fit so well together that to even think of questioning or dismantling the structure causes great anxiety or even hostility.
I suspect that’s what had happened in Jesus’ day with regard to the Temple sacrifices. It all made sense: people were traveling greater distances, making the provision of an animal as required a real headache when needing to keep track of those uncooperative beasts. Why not buy them upon arrival? People came from different places in the Mediterranean world, bringing the currency with which the did daily business to a place that would not accept it; it had to be changed. At a cost; with a premium. And a handsome profit for a few enterprising folks. Why not? And why not charge a little more the next time, and skimp on the product the next, increasing the margin? It all started so innocently.
There are occasions in our lives, both corporately and personally, on which we act far more out of unquestioned routine than out of worshipful awareness of that to which God is drawing our attention. We become more concerned with the shape and performance of the practice than with awareness of the presence of God for which the original practice was given. Singing praises became performances, all enhanced by greater technology so the voices, at least a select few of them, could be more pleasingly heard, by us if not by God; then acoustics become paramount in the architecture of the sacred spaces we meet in. Preaching becomes more about the charisma of the presenter than about the actual content, a charisma electronically enhanced and distributed widely, while the person of the pastor remains ever more distant; so we maximize the stage presence of the one in the center. And it isn’t Jesus. But it all started so innocently, with meeting the changing needs–or was it the selfish desires?
Personally we stress more about performing our “devotions” than about listening to God in our entire experience of people through the day; we develop lists of things we do and do not do; and we use them less as ways of consecrating ourselves to Christ than to maintain a superior place over others who do not live by the same list. Maybe all of the things above are fine, and after inspection we will continue with satisfaction in God; but if we do not ask, if they are simply a matter of business as usual, we just might find ourselves on the wrong end of a whip wielded by Jesus.