Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Turning Over the Money-Changers' Tables

A view at the base of the pyramid at Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Growing up in a Catholic family, I have always had a special reverence for Passion Week, perhaps the holiest of all the Christian holy days. The climax of this tradition begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem on a mule while palm leaves and garments are laid in his path by his followers. He is widely acknowledged as a healer, though some are upset that his actions are drawing so much attention.

Then, later that day, or the next day, he becomes enraged by the “money changers” and ubiquitous vendors along the way to the temple, and knocks over many of these booths.

Of course, it is no different today. Every holy site on earth is packed with vendors and their booths of trinkets that they hawk to every tourist who passes by. These booths of vendors are found around the Vatican, the Church of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Chichen Itza, the Egypt pyramids, etc., ad nauseum.

Jesus knocked over the merchants’ tables because he felt their very presence in the temple desecrated a holy site. This didn’t garner him many friends, especially not the merchants who felt justified in their commerce. This act set the stage for the various accusations, arrest, trials, and crucifixion.

Today, commerce seems to run and rule every aspect of our lives. Everything has a price and scant few protest the gross invasion of commercialism, on billboards, on our e-mail, on the bus-stop, in the bus, on the bus, at every sporting venue, on the clothing of bicyclists and car racers, etc. Yet, we somewhat draw the line at our religious locations. Somewhat.

Jesus recoiled that the work of the Temple seemed to be just the work of commerce. Let it be done elsewhere, he argued. Of course, his actions were radical, and noteworthy, and look how he was “rewarded” for trying to separate commerce from “the house of God.”

I once experienced what I felt was very similar to what Jesus felt that day.

I was in Guatemala on a Mayan study and tour, we drove to the town of Chichicastenango. It was said to be a sacred city where the oldest version of the Popul Vuh exists. We were going to visit one of the holiest Mayan sites, which was once a pyramid in the town, upon which a Catholic cathedral had been built a few hundred years ago.

To get to this site, we had to walk through several blocks of narrow passageways, densely populated with booth after booth selling jewelry, artworks, fabric, clothing, food, herbs, and all manner of trinkets. There was no escaping the throngs of vendors, to whom any eye contact meant maybe you wanted to buy what they had. The narrow passageways were so thick that you literally had to bump shoulders with everyone else, and the hired tour guide yelled out to all of us to carry our daypacks in front of our bodies to thwart pickpockets.

I began to feel that I had descended into a hell of sorts. I had not been feeling well, and I had just learned two days earlier that my brother had died. I was in the mindset of entering into a Holy of Holies, but to get there you had to pass through the gauntlet of the most overt commercialism imaginable. I withdrew deeply into my self, something next to impossible to do in such a public place.

Eventually, our group all arrived at the base of what was left of the whitewashed pyramid. At the top was the cathedral, where the church today allows the Mayans to practice their traditional religion. We would eventually enter the church and hear about its history, and see a Mayan priestess performing a ritual in the middle row of the church.

But outside, with the din of voices and screaming all around, the merchants booths were set up right to the edbe of the pyramid. People sat on the pyramid, and near the base, copal was continually burned and black smoke poured heavenward. The narrow passageways of all the corridors of booths led to this pyramid, and a constant throng of passersby moved constantly this way and that.

I felt awestruck by that unique spiritual “something” that was an inherent part of this special place. But why had the commerce been allowed to invade and over run this site. At least no vendors were allowed into the church yard or church!

But outside, at the base of the pyramid, I had a clear mental picture of the wrath of Jesus back at the Temple of Jerusalem, knocking the vendors tables over. I could see the Rightness in what he did. I felt such a strong desire myself – to be rid of the hawkers of ware in that holy place.

There was no way I would kick over a table of jewelry or other goods. For one, I was not feeling well and didn’t have the strength for such an act. For another, I was well aware that I’d be spending time in some out of the way Guatemalan jail cell, and that notion was very unappealing. I simply took in the moment, tried to feel the reality of the commerce that has overtaken us, and looked forward to my departure.

Yes, Easter is about the death and ressurection, a theme that is found in numerous religious traditions world-wide. It is a worthy theme to study and to plumb its mysteries. It is all about each of us allowing our ignorant ways to die, and to allow our spiritual divinities to be resurrected from the ashes of our pointless lives. But don’t forget that Jesus desired to kick out the love of money from the spiritual temple. That too is something that each of us should do in our own private lives.

And if and when we get the courage to actually do this, do not expect your friends and family to smile in approval. You would be wise to look at story of Jesus to see what you should expect, and to plan accordingly.


mousiemarc said...

Well stated. And yes you are very very right. Not only would most of us look at another individual in such a lowly way, many of us would also deny that we ourselves are materialistic. To be honest I don't know if it is possible for fallen man not to be at least somewhat materialistic in this country. If/when this country has an economic collapse that will become very painful for many. Though if we have the courage to change and live those things we falsely believe that we need we will be the better for it.

Too much value on money is somewhat obvious. It is the value in the false lifestyle that is associated with easy money that I feel many don't recognize. I don't want anyone to be impoverished if for no other reason that sanitation and health is compromised in such conditions. That being said, I think many would benefit having to evaluate what is really important. May God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ on this most holy of days coming up.


christopher Nyerges said...

Marc, thanks for your comments, and your blessings to all.
Now, we do not need to have an "economic collapse" in order to change our values, and find those areas where we can live less materialistic. Though sometimes, people and groups of people will not change unless forced...
However, as I wrote in my "Extreme Simplicity" book, you can find a whole new reality by pursuing your goals without letting money be your ultimate pursuit. Plus, we can grow plants, make things, barter, trade. We have lost our connection to basic reality because the love of money has closed our spiritual eyes.

mousiemarc said...

I couldn't agree with you more. We don't need an economic collapse but sadly I think that is what it will take for many. Trust me, I don't want an economic collapse (though if we don't stop the inflationary printing press that might eventually be unavoidable). I am trying to help my family members toward a more (though not totally) back to basics lifestyle. Barter and trade are great skills and I'm just in the beginning stages in learning these skills. I should pick up your book. Sounds like it could be very useful toward some of the things I'm trying to learn.

Regardless of what happens in this countries economics, we have a great opportunity. Even in the most trying of circumstances there are opportunities to love, help, teach, and in general to make a difference in another persons life. I am truly trying to keep trucking down the road of living a life more toward giving, loving God and my fellow man, and seeing the needs of others more than my own. One of these days if I'm in your neck of the woods I hope to meet you. Love your books, and if the opportunity presents it self I woud love to take one of your classes. For now, I'll just continue living here in Washington state and working heartily for the Lord.

God Bless,