The Common Good

A House of Prayer for All Races

I was privileged the last few days to be in Phoenix, Arizona. (What an amazing place -- the sunshine and the cloudless sky!) The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops took a group down to the border with Mexico, to look at the issue of migration. I was very touched by the stories that we heard; one migrant herself came and spoke with us. I saw those water tanks that they put in the desert so that people, as they travel through, don't die of thirst, but find sustenance.

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What came to my mind is that, for some time, I've believed that our exposition of the cleansing of the temple has missed the point. The cleansing of the temple was not a statement against capitalism. The cleansing of the temple was a statement against racism.

What was going on there was they had taken the Court of the Gentiles, the court of the other races, [which] allowed them to draw near to the God of Israel, to worship him, and they had filled that Court of the Gentiles with [commercial] stalls that prevented them from doing that. And Jesus clears the stalls out -- because they've denied the other races their sacred space to draw close to the God of Israel. If you think this is fanciful, then simply go to the two quotations that Jesus used from Jeremiah and Isaiah; the Isaiah quotation is all about the stranger in the land coming to the house of the Lord to worship him with joy.

Jesus says my house of prayer, should be a house of prayer for all races -- you've made it a "den of thieves". Why is it that in 2,000 years of Christian theology we've emphasized the "den of thieves" and not all races? My house should be a house of prayer for every race. And then in Mark's gospel there is a throwaway line which nobody ever explains, which gives the clue to what Jesus did. After having cleansed the temple, he then, we're told, lets nobody move through it. Why is that? Because he restores the sacredness of the space to the other races, so that they might draw near to worship the God of Israel.

So I am impressed to see the house of bishops of the Episcopal Church here, wrestle with migration, which is not just an American issue, it affects the whole world. I remember at school years ago someone saying: The big issue of the future will be the migration of people. And, of course, it is because of climate change that people are moving -- because the climate is changing, ruining the harvest, droughts, floods, disturbing the balance of the earth. People are no longer able to live in the land in which they have grown up.

[This blog post is an excerpt from a transcription of an address given by Bishop James Jones at Sojourners' September 20, 2010 Climate Change Roundtable.]

Bishop James Jones is an Anglican bishop of Liverpool, England, and author of Jesus and the Earth (SPCK), which looks at the relationship between Christianity and the environment. Additionally, he established and chaired the governing body of the Academy of St. Francis of Assisi in Liverpool, which is jointly sponsored by the Catholic and Anglican Dioceses. It is the first academy in Britain to specialize in the environment. A second academy dedicated to sustainability will open next year for 1,600 11-to-18 year-olds.

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