Weekly Seeds: Transactionalism

Sunday, March 3, 2024
Third Sunday in Lent | Year B

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
Just God, guide us with compassion to rest in your abundance and lead lives of mutuality and sharing.

Focus Reading:
John 2:13-22
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, with the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After 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.

All readings for this Sunday:
Exodus 20:1-17 • Psalm 19 • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 • John 2:13-22

Focus Questions:
How do you understand transactionalism?
How has the faith journey been presented to you as transactional in nature?
What is the difference, if any, between transactionalism and reciprocity?
What is the difference, if any, between transactionalism and a grateful response?
What may you say yes to when you say no to transactionalism?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Transactions can be neutral. The exchange of ideas, goods, or services can benefit those who give and receive. As relational beings, much of our lives involve transactions–exchanges and interactions between humans. Transactions are a means to an end, but transactionalism occurs when the means becomes the end. The transaction itself takes on a life of its own beyond the relationship. When the encounter is judged not on the impact, nature, or fruit of the exchange, but rather the superior position in the transaction becomes the goal. Human relationships deteriorate when the condition of community is tethered to the perceived material value of what one brings for the transaction.

Transactionalism can infiltrate the divine-human relationship as human beings attempt to manipulate or maneuver the Holy One, or others in their pursuit of God, for their own ends. That is the basis of the story when Jesus viscerally and violently reacts to the moneychangers in the temple. The issue is not having exchanges. The problem, as Jesus recognizes, is the use of the temple system to necessitate transactions enriching the powerful at the expense of people seeking what God gives freely and graciously.

This passage follows the account of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. That is the first of seven signs in the gospel narrative. John’s telling of the good news utilizes signs to focus on the divinity of Christ. While the encounter in the temple is not one of those signs, it is symbolic of who Jesus is and what his life signifies.

The story of the cleansing of the temple in the Gospel of John (Jn. 2:13–25) is not placed after the story of the entry into Jerusalem like in the synoptic gospels, but in chapter 2 after the story of the wedding at Cana. Besides John connects the cleansing of the temple with the word of Jesus that he will rebuild the temple in 3 days after its destruction. In the synoptic gospels this word is not said directly by Jesus. It is an utterance of the witnesses in the process of Jesus who declare that Jesus has said this word (Mt. 20:60; Mk. 14:57–58)…. The opponents of Jesus think that he speaks about the temple whose restoration Herod the Great began 46 years ago. But the narrator of the story remarks that Jesus spoke about the temple of his body.
Huub Welzen

As Reuben E. Duniya notes, scholarship offers three prevailing theories about the symbolism of the temple:

Some scholars, perhaps the majority, view it as referring to Jesus’s human body, which is the “living abode of God on earth, the fulfillment of all the temple meant, and the centre of all true worship”… in which Jesus is viewed as becoming God’s tabernacle when the word became flesh….Another group of scholars interprets the Johannine metaphor as referring to the church….A third group of scholars sees the Christological and ecclesiological dimensions of the Johannine metaphor as complementary.
Reuben E. Duniya

The third option, which holds the both/and perspective seems highly plausible given that Jesus often disrupted the limitations of binary choices. The temple was known as the dwelling place of the divine, which is both the physical body of Jesus and the gathering of the faithful. And, the Holy One could not be contained to either.

Yet, as a symbolic location, the temple should be treated with honor and respect. Those seeking the presence of God should not be ridiculed, disadvantaged, or exploited. For Jesus, the moneychangers not only took advantage of those in need of grace, they attempted to capitalize on the temple. This violation was personal and so was his response.

When Jesus references “My Father,” he does so in prayer and/or to convey the unity and union between them. He uses the name to reflect intimacy and connection. Jesus also promises that same intimate relationship with the Divine Parent to those who follow him, which is an invitation open to all. That connection is a gift freely given in order to be freely received. To attempt to profit from this gift is an offense and affront to God, and Jesus, through his words and actions, makes the depth of the injury apparent.

It is important to note that the physical temple should not become the singular focus as the location for divine encounter. The biblical narrative is replete with the shifting of God’s presence. In Genesis, Creator begins as a disembodied voice speaking order into chaos. God then dwells in the garden created with humanity as stewards. Later, God manifests in clouds, fire, and wind. The tent in the desert became the Holy One’s dwelling place, and multiple iterations of the temple were built and rebuilt so that the people would have a place to meet with God. In Jesus, God manifests as companion and friend who shares a meal, offers a drink, and shows the way.

When the temple no longer existed, and Israel’s sacrificial cult no longer functioned, the rabbis turned to the law to find in Torah a replacement for all they had lost. Around the same time, the Fourth Evangelist presents Jesus, not Torah, as the new temple. But if that were the only transformation, the Christian community would be as desolate in the departure of Jesus as the community of Israel was in the loss of their temple. The gospel narrative doubly transforms the heritage of Israel, transferring the image of the temple to the Christian community that remains in the world, under the guidance of the Spirit-Paraclete.
Mary L. Coloe

This should not lead anyone to believe that the presence of God has departed from any other community or that Christianity supersedes any other religious tradition. Rather, from a Christian perspective, the good news is enfleshed. Through the incarnation of Christ, we understand “God’s dwelling place is now among the people” (Revelation 21:3b) with Jesus leading the way. This moment is a countercultural declaration from Jesus that what had become a transaction will now be a gift exchange. The law is not abolished; rather it is renewed and fulfilled by attending to the original purpose of the law: providing a means for right relationship with God and one another.

We suggest next that the cleansing of the temple (2,13-22) constitutes a narrative parallel to Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (4,1-42). Both stories center around the same theme, that of Jesus replacing physical centers of worship with himself as the new locus of God’s presence and new object of human worship.
Lars Kierspel

The woman at the well was an outsider to a community of outsiders. Yet, Jesus goes through Samaria in order to meet her. Their encounter is one of transparency, revelation, discovery, and reconciliation. Jesus acknowledges her with compassion and grace; she speaks her truth and questions him. Jesus shares truth with her; she incorporates this insight into what she already knows. Jesus reveals his identity to her; she spreads the gospel to the community that rejected her. No sacrifices were needed. The encounter was enough for justice and righteousness to reign in this moment. A series of exchanges transpired, yet there was nothing transactional about it.

Transactions place expectations where gifts invite a response born of gratitude. How many people in need of compassion and mercy would have never entered the temple because of what it had come to represent? How many are repelled from our present-day faith communities because of what Christianity has come to represent?

• A set of rules, not handed down by God like the Ten Commandments, but human designed regulations to keep people in a box made by the powerful and privileged
• A closed circle more concerned with nationalism than following the teachings and modeled behavior of Jesus
• A group of people determined to foist their beliefs on others while withholding compassion keeping distance from human need
• A religion based on keeping people out of an eternal hell while ignoring the hell humanity visits on God’s good creation on the earth

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This is the core problem of the church, and why we are failing as an institution. While there are many faith communities worshipping, serving, and living in spirit and in truth, too many of us have succumbed to the transactionalism model of ministry where:

• The church is primarily concerned with the survival of the institution
• Service is done in hope of gaining members rather than compassionate concern and care for neighbor
• Gatekeepers determine who belongs in the family of God and the rules of engagement for being in community
• Discipleship is built on guilt, obligation, and fear instead of companionship, gratitude, and love

Those Jesus confronted in the temple in turn confronted him by asking for a sign of his authority over the temple activity. Jesus responds by foretelling the nature and significance of his death and resurrection. Jesus will rebuild the temple not through force, power, or might. He will not need to amass wealth or profit from the misfortune of others. Nor will he require the permission or assistance of empire.

He will rebuild in silence and mystery. The temple is rebuilt in the darkness of the tomb. The temple is reassembled in the uncertainty and confusion of God at work beyond our perception.

During the season of Lent, we journey toward the events of Holy Week from the Triumphal Entry to the Last Supper to the Crucifixion to the Resurrection. The synoptic accounts situate this story around Holy Tuesday. John tells it differently. While the details may differ, this story points us to the often overlooked Holy Saturday. The day when it seemed like nothing happened and yet everything happened. We are left with mystery. We aren’t privy to those details. We can only speculate, and despite the various theories of how Jesus experienced death, Jesus clearly did not consider that our concern or privilege to know. Whatever it was, it was the making of a holy surprise.

Sometimes, when we receive a really special gift, the response of a simple “thank you” does not seem to be enough. We may feel like we need to give something in equal measure. We may even think of what we have done to deserve the time, attention, creativity, and care of such a gift. If it seems expensive, we may object to the amount we perceived was paid. If it was handmade, we may be concerned about the time and effort expended. We may say, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “How could you do this?” The gift giver will often respond with a word of assurance that they wanted to do it or they could afford it. They may even be annoyed or partly offended by the objections. After all, the act of gift giving is personal out of affection, belonging, and love. The gift giver may also insist that the recipient should not be concerned with how the gift came to be and just accept the gift.

The Holy One is the giver of good and perfect gifts. We don’t have to earn God’s favor or esteem. Even the covenantal promise of God’s abiding presence is not conditioned on our good behavior. The ten commandments and other laws were also a gift for humanity’s individual and collective benefit. Jesus came into the world as God’s greatest gift–making God known to us and making us known to God as never before. That is the work of grace, love, and hope. It’s not a transaction to enter but a gift to enjoy.

Say no to transactionalism.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

Mr. Moderator, Brother Lomax, brothers and sisters, friends and enemies: I just can’t believe everyone in here is a friend, and I don’t want to leave anybody out. The question tonight, as I understand it, is “The Negro Revolt, and Where Do We Go From Here?” or What Next?” In my little humble way of understanding it, it points toward either the ballot or the bullet.

Before we try and explain what is meant by the ballot or the bullet, I would like to clarify something concerning myself. I’m still a Muslim; my religion is still Islam. That’s my personal belief. Just as Adam Clayton Powell is a Christian minister who heads the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, but at the same time takes part in the political struggles to try and bring about rights to the black people in this country; and Dr. Martin Luther King is a Christian minister down in Atlanta, Georgia, who heads another organization fighting for the civil rights of black people in this country; and Reverend Galamison, I guess you’ve heard of him, is another Christian minister in New York who has been deeply involved in the school boycotts to eliminate segregated education; well, I myself am a minister, not a Christian minister, but a Muslim minister; and I believe in action on all fronts by whatever means necessary.

Although I’m still a Muslim, I’m not here tonight to discuss my religion. I’m not here to try and change your religion. I’m not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because it’s time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem, a problem that will make you catch hell whether you’re a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist. Whether you’re educated or illiterate, whether you live on the boulevard or in the alley, you’re going to catch hell just like I am. We’re all in the same boat and we all are going to catch the same hell from the same man. He just happens to be a white man. All of us have suffered here, in this country, political oppression at the hands of the white man, economic exploitation at the hands of the white man, and social degradation at the hands of the white man.

Now in speaking like this, it doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression. And if the white man doesn’t want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us. Whether we are Christians or Muslims or nationalists or agnostics or atheists, we must first learn to forget our differences. If we have differences, let us differ in the closet; when we come out in front, let us not have anything to argue about until we get finished arguing with the man. If the late President Kennedy could get together with Khrushchev and exchange some wheat, we certainly have more in common with each other than Kennedy and Khrushchev had with each other.
—The Ballot or the Bullet by Malcolm X, April 3, 1964, Cleveland, Ohio

For Further Reflection
“Some people exchange comfort for vulnerability. It’s a dangerous transaction.” ― Mitta Xinindlu
“How quickly pe ople can forget you, until they want something from you and when they are done with you, you are not even a stranger but an invisible person who doesn’t even exist.”― honeya
“In this town numbers become the currency of conversation, while conversation becomes negotiation and negotiation becomes transaction.” ― Ryan Gelpke

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.