Ax + Sword: Lenten Commentary 2018

Week 3

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19:8-11
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

When I was in the first few years of my seminary education, we were told not to get too excited about certain things – that we shouldn’t “flip over tables” unless absolutely necessary. I’m glad this can be a metaphor as much as reality.

I’m going to shamelessly admit I haven’t flipped over more tables in my life. Maybe I need to be like Jesus and use my “flipping table card” only once. There have been many times when I have witnessed injustice and just kept my mouth shut out of fear of what others might think. There have been times I have walked pass the homeless and hungry and hurting and never did a thing to help them. There are still times in my daily life when I should be flipping over tables and driving out all kinds of corruption from my own life and this church and world that I love so much, but I just can’t find the courage to do it.

I wonder if you have the same thoughts in your head. I’m really trying to make Lent a joyful season because I’m so sick of all the shame and darkness in our world, but it’s getting harder as we get closer to Easter. I’d like to blame my feelings on allergies or lack of sleep or something measurable. I’d like to blame someone, even God, even myself, but I’m not sure that’s the answer either.

I wonder if any of us have come to notice the injustices in our world enough to push for a transformation like Jesus demonstrates. The Temple was everything for the Jewish people – both the super religious and the socially pious. Destroy the Temple: you have made a threat to destroy the world-view of everyone you encounter.

This moment of transformation for Jesus is probably best described as reformation since Jesus insists that “in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) I’ve always been a fan of Swiss theologian Karl Barth, famous for coining the phrase Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda, Latin for “A Church Reformed, Always Reforming.” I’m not sure how many Americans are familiar with this phrase. My reformed brothers and sisters might have this hanging on a banner somewhere, but I’ve never met a Catholic proudly displaying this phrase. I might have to make a sign for my office. I’ll only write it in Latin – because that’s trendy nowadays and plus I am a Latin teacher. But what does it mean for us today?

Are you ready to reform your life, your family, your church and your world? Or are things just fine? I guess Lent is about recognizing that something just doesn’t seem right. Forcing people to change their hard earned money into a temple token sounds ridiculous, but those were the coins flying through the air that bitter day many years ago. And casting out the organic, grass-fed, pre-sanctified animals to a God who was looking for a humbled, contrite heart, not more dead cattle or pigeons.

What are you going to change? Or are you too much like me – afraid to do anything because it will without a doubt cause you to lose friends, maybe family, maybe even your precious job. I’m not God, I’m not everywhere, but you and I are somewhere. I can’t tell you much about where you are, but my life experience has taught me that it’s right where you are supposed to be. Stand still for a few minutes today and figure out what’s going on in your world. Hopefully by now someone has shared with you the idea that we don’t go to church, but that we are the church.

Many years ago now I shared a homily with that phrase and nearly gave my priest-professor a heart attack. He probably wanted me to recite the Ten Commandments and remind everyone that they are great big sinners for disobeying God. I couldn’t do it then and I still can’t do it. Jesus knows that our lives are so much more than can ever be contained on a list. We humans, like lists, God – not so much. God wants lives that draw outside the lines, can’t be limited to words alone and ones that are passionate about what is wrong with the world as much as what is right with all things.

We may as well stop kidding ourselves when it comes to our shortcomings or the way we keep ignoring the Spirit of God calling us to do something great. We can only believe in the name of Jesus when we see Jesus working in our communities. Jesus knows our human nature so well. He knows why we sometimes make a scene and when we are silent.


Fr. Ross Miceli, M.Div., S.T.B., is pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Kersey and Campus Minister at Elk County Catholic in St. Marys. He can be reached at for questions or comments.