A homily about excess and clutter

Driving of the Merchants From the Temple by Scarsellino, 1580-1585

I’m a very visually oriented person.  When I pray, it helps me to envision Jesus, to consider his setting and surroundings, and those who are nearby.  I observe closely and that helps me.  Typically, I see him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, speaking to the crowd that had gathered to hear him talk.  Or I see him sitting next to the woman at the well, touching the eyes of the man born blind, telling the one who could not walk to stand and walk, addressing those who were about to stone the woman, or at the very site of his own passion and death.

A scene I never envision?  One where he is holding a whip, overturning tables, yelling at all those present in the temple  Yet that is the very scene of today’s Gospel (John 2:13-25).

It was unlawful for people to use the currency of the region, which had the faces of pagan gods on them, and so they had to have it changed in order to purchase whatever they needed in order to offer a proper sacrifice at the temple.  The money changers and merchants were serving a good and useful purpose.  So… why was Jesus so bent out of shape?

As I said, I’m visually oriented.  It’s no wonder then that I love photography.  I’ve had a camera in my hand since I was 14 years old… and I’ve held a lot of cameras in my hands in all the years since.

Photography has helped me frame up and interact with the world, it helps me to see beauty all around me, and the creative expression it offers brings me true joy.  For me, photography has been a good, good thing.

But over time, I upgraded my camera.  A year later, when the next model came out, I upgraded again.  And again.  I needed lenses… the good ones obviously.  Flashes, tripods, lighting equipment, filters, bags to carry all the stuff, and ever more sophisticated hardware and software in order to process the images.

I remember hiking into the Grand Canyon with my son one year.  I knew I’d need a wide angle lens for the big landscape shots, longer lenses for the wildlife, a mid-level zoom, a portrait lens to get the memorable shot of my son, a fish-eye lens for the creative canyon shot, a tripod… and more.  I recall lugging that gear all the way down and then all the way back.  It felt like ten thousand pounds by the end.  And you know, I don’t think I got one decent image on that entire trip.

Photography is a good thing… but over time, clutter, excess, and just over-doing it made me lose sight of what was important: the art, the creative vision.  Seeing the beauty and capturing it.

The money changers and merchants – which were good and necessary – frustrated Jesus because of the clutter, the excess, the over-doing it.  They filled up the place and they were cheating the pilgrims, overcharging them and converting the temple into something it was not supposed to be.

Is there something in your life that started off good but then went too far?  Lent is a time to spring clean, to get back to basics, to simplify.  To focus on what really matters.

I sold off all my lenses and cameras and now have a simple set up.  I can fit it all in a little bag and guess what?  My photography has gotten better.  It’s now about art, not gear.

Jesus is the center.  His message was one of love, forgiveness, service to others and accompanying those who are suffering.  Redemption comes not from the clutter, salvation not from excess.

Jesus is the center.

Lent is a good time to do some house cleaning.

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