Jesus Cleanses the Temple
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 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.
John 2:13-22 (NRSV)
Throughout the season of Lent here in Oldtown, we are looking at the difficult words and understandings of our faith, and how even in the midst of them, if we allow the light of Jesus to shine through, we can always find hope. This week, our word is “destroy,” and as we heard a few moments ago, today’s scripture starts with Jesus turning over the tables and upsetting all that was going on. But why would Jesus do something like that? Well, actually, Jesus was helping the people to open their eyes. Because they had forgotten who they were and why they were there. They had forgotten about God and were only focusing on the business and the “busy-ness” that drove them. And that is very easy to do, isn’t it?
Well, through the gospel of John today, we see the “other side” of Jesus. Not the calm, cool, collected, gentle Jesus that we usually think about. No, in today’s reading, Jesus is just the opposite! He is upset and angry! Because he arrives at the temple in Jerusalem during the sacred time of Passover to find a full-blown marketplace. People are buying and selling animals of all kinds. Now, they were buying and selling sacrifices for worship, but the truth is, worship had become a business. It had become a show. The fancy rituals and pompous ceremonies had overtaken the honest and humble acts of prayer and worship.
At one point in the altercation, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
Now we hear these words in all four of the gospels, and when we hear them, most of us think, “Aha!” Jesus is foretelling the coming of his crucifixion and resurrection. But the truth is, my friends, in John’s gospel, we are hearing even more than just a foreshadowing of the fate of Jesus. Because when the hearers of John’s gospel heard the words, “but he was speaking of the temple of his body,” John’s first audience would have known that, when Jesus said “his body,” Jesus was also referring to the body of Christ. Meaning, not only Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection but also all those who seek to follow him and who strive to be like Jesus. People like you and me, and people like Leah and Barbara, and all those who work through the International Organization of Women in Development helping those in need.
And what Jesus did then, he still calls us to do now – to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to the injustices all around us. To stay focused on our faith, and to live our lives as if we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the here and now. Now, be assured my friends, we all need reminders. We all slip up sometimes and lose sight of the goal, but that is why we are a part of the body of Christ. Friends, the good news is that we are not alone in this work. When we are weak, there is someone else to reach out a hand to help us. If we see someone struggling, we are called to lend them that same helping hand.
The problem is, in the business and “busy-ness” of our lives, sometimes we lose our focus. We forget our priorities. We put our faith aside and allow society to tell us what matters. As Leah explained to us a few minutes ago, not only did she and the other doctors and nurses work hard to serve so many people in need, but they also had to pay for their own trip, and use their vacation days – a sacrifice that not every person would be willing to make, because so often we are taught to put ourselves first. We focus on our wants and our needs, and we overlook the needs of others.
There is a story that always comes to mind when reflecting on situations like this. It’s the story told of a group of salesmen who had been at a regional sales convention in Chicago. Now please understand that I am not saying that salesmen are bad people, but in order to stay for the end of the convention, they only had a short time to get to the airport in order to catch their flight home. They arrived at the airport and made it through security, but in their rush, with tickets and briefcases in hand, one of the salesmen inadvertently knocked over a cart which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere! Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane in time. All but one that is! He paused, took a deep breath, and felt a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand had been overturned. Something deep inside told him to turn back. He told his buddies to go on without him, explaining that he would be taking a later flight. Then, he returned to the terminal where the apples were all over the floor. He was glad he did. The sixteen-year-old girl who had been selling the apples was blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time, helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her, but no one stopped to help. The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table, and helped her to reorganize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket. When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, “Here, please take this forty dollars for the damage we did. Are you okay?” She nodded through her tears. As the salesman started to walk away, the girl sat perfectly still for a few seconds and then she called out to him, “Mister?” He paused and turned to look back. She continued, “Are you Jesus?” He stopped in mid-stride, surprised by her question. He gently went back and said, “No, I am nothing like Jesus. Jesus is good, kind, caring, loving, and he would never have bumped into your display in the first place.” The girl gently nodded, “I only asked because I prayed for Jesus to help me gather the apples. Then you showed up.” He slowly he made his way to catch a later flight with the young girl’s question burning in his mind and in his heart: “Are you Jesus?”
My friends, as the body of Christ, we are called to be so much like Jesus that people can’t tell the difference as we live and interact in the world. Now sometimes that calls us to love others unconditionally. Sometimes that calls us to forgive those who hurt us. Sometimes that calls us to reach out and help the least and the lost. And sometimes that calls us to stand up for injustice. Because when we do those things, we bring peace and hope and healing to the people and the things that the world tries to destroy.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, let your faith lead you and listen to God’s call in your life. As you go through each day, facing situations of all kinds, think about what you would do if you were Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through you in all you say and do.
May it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!