Cutting a switch for ourselves or for Jesus?

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As a young boy, when I acted up or did something that deserved discipline, my mother would hand me her pruning clippers and instruct me to go out in the yard and cut my own switch. The mental anguish of cutting the switch had its own measure of discipline as I evaluated how much I should cut, how long the stems should be and so on. Once I cut the branches from the softest shrubs I could find (I learned early on that potacarpus shrubs were better than Holly bushes), I would bunch them up and bring them back to her. All the while I knew I deserved what I was about to receive.

When I returned from the yard, I was typically in tears and so was my mother. As painful as it was for me to receive the switching, it seemed just as painful for her to give me one. Once the short session was finished, my mother would hold me in her arms and we would cry together. Eventually we would talk about doing better, give each other a kiss and begin anew. I am not sure what was more helpful to me – the thought process of cutting the switches, the actual thrashing or experiencing my mother cry for having to discipline me for the sins that I had committed. The good news for both of us was that, as harsh as this practice of discipline might sound in this day and age, it didn’t happen many times or very often.

It didn’t take many of these situations for me to realize the deep pain that I would bring to my parents when I misbehaved. I don’t remember the last switch I had to cut but I thank God I didn’t cut many. I am sure my mother did too.

Jesus arrives at the Jerusalem temple with anticipation of reliving the Passover with his fellow brothers and sisters, only to find a temple that is being used for a purpose other than prayer and worship. Jesus goes about making a whip of cords and proceeds to run the animals and “ne’er do wells” out of the temple. The authorities recognize Jesus’ prophetic action but show little remorse, asking Jesus for a sign; as much as to say, “OK, big deal, you straightened things up, now show us some real power.”

Jesus responds “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This confounds the authorities, for the temple has been under construction for 46 years and has yet to be completed. When we hear Jesus talk about raising the temple in three days he is referring to his resurrection, his resurrection that brought the disciples to full belief in him as Messiah and Lord.

 

I have always wondered why the Gospels include this story about Jesus cleansing the temple but now I think I get it. As much as we get nervous when we hear about Jesus becoming angry with those desecrating Holy space and face the reality that we are likely guilty of doing the same, there is a deeper message. Jesus intends to foreshadow and foretell the depth and impact that his resurrection will have for those then and us now – such as the astounding thought of rebuilding something that took 46 years to make in a mere three days. Being raised three days after one’s death will transform everything and everyone who receives it in faith.

The resurrection restores the places in our souls that we desecrate. The resurrection brings us to full belief and faith. The resurrection redeems us all. The resurrection is the last switch that Jesus cut for us. Jesus goes out in the backyard of humanity and cuts the switch, and then he does the unimaginable, he hands us the switch to use against him. Imagine his agony as he walks around in our spiritually broken backyards, looking for the appropriate shrub that he prunes for us but that becomes used for his own undeserved infliction.

Jesus uses the whip of cords to cleanse the temple of its animals and those who are selling them; soon enough the whip is what Pilate orders to be used to thrash Jesus as he drags his cross to Golgotha. What Jesus uses to scurry animals away becomes what is used to scourge him. As we enter the midpoint of Lent, we might consider spending some time in our backyards to contemplate the mighty switch that Jesus cut for himself when he didn’t deserve the punishment he received. We should also be mindful to think about the switches we still need to cut for ourselves.

Unfortunately we fill the shoes of the temple authorities that ask for another sign quite well. We hear Jesus’ foreshadowing of the resurrection and yet we yawn and seek a greater sign. Even though Jesus prepares the switch and takes the beating, we are the ones that need to be in the yard doing the cutting; and maybe then will we comprehend the immense depth of his burden for our sins and the power of his resurrection.

With pruning shears in hand, we are called to examine what we are to cut and present for our Lord’s redeeming, not for the thrashing we deserve but in thanksgiving for the thrashing that he took for us. We can count on Jesus’ saving embrace and tears when we return.

Just as a mother once shared the tears of discipline with her child, our Lord embraces our pain, agony and disappointment in ourselves as if it is his own. Jesus takes joy in our return and this is the good news, not of his suffering and pain, but of his resurrection, the resurrection that brings us to full belief and wholeness.

Spending some time cutting our own switches allows Jesus to cleanse our temples and brings renewed appreciation and thanksgiving for the undeserved grace we receive through his death and resurrection.

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