The Third Sunday In Lent: March 7, 2021
Year B: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”
I imagine that there are some who find this passage comforting, though at first glance it certainly doesn’t seem that way. This passage seems threatening. And it seems threatening because it is filled with anger. Jesus’ anger. Jesus isn’t just angry – he’s really angry. This passage shows Jesus on the verge of violence as he drives the money changers out of the temple. As we heard Jesus is so angry that he made a whip of cords and starts whirling it in the air.
It’s certainly not our typical picture of Jesus. But guess what. I think it reminds us that Jesus is human just like us. Jesus seems a lot more like us than we usually consider. And as difficult as I think that it, that is also what some find comforting in this image of Jesus. He is human and exhibits human emotions.
Now, the level of anger. That I admit makes me personally a bit uncomfortable. I’ve never been a person good at displaying anger in the way that Jesus just did. I once had someone tell me I wasn’t “angry enough” about something. No, I wasn’t but I didn’t really know how to be. Jesus just showed us the way. I think an angry Jesus has a lot to offer us.
Anger as I said is a part of being human. We all feel it. Christ came to us as human to bridge the gap between God and us, and we’d have a really hard time relating to a Christ who never gets exasperated or frustrated, or not even every once in a while gets truly furious at something. So I look at a Jesus who turns over a few tables and I think maybe a Jesus who can get this mad is a Jesus around whom I don’t have to feel ashamed about my own anger. Maybe this is a Jesus who understands anger and can help me, help us, work through it. Maybe this is a Jesus who truly does understand.
But that’s not all.
All four canonical gospels include an account of Jesus’ disruption at the temple. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are similar, with some variants, and place the incident near the end of the gospel when Jesus enters Jerusalem for Passover the week he was crucified. In John, the incident occurs toward the beginning of the gospel and is distinctively different from the brief synoptic versions. Scholars agree that the gospel accounts are grounded in a historical incident.
The gospel of John places the scene in the first of three pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Jesus’ angry demonstration at the temple is the second sign in the narrative. The occasion of the first sign is among family and friends at a wedding in Cana, a small town in Galilee (2:1-11).
The second sign follows only a few verses after the first, but the context is by contrast to the other gospels very urban, very public and very politically charged. Crowds swell the population of Jerusalem at Passover, bringing an increased need for services, not least of all access to the temple’s sacrificial rites. Crowds heighten the potential for disturbance and therefore the increased presence of Roman troops for crowd control.
The Temple in Jerusalem was God’s permanent dwelling place, a sign of the covenantal promise of eternal presence. The sacrificial rites were administered here according to biblical law by priests descended from priestly lineage. Jews throughout the diaspora made pilgrimages at feast times.
The animals and money changers were there because of the Torah’s requirement of sacrifice. The moneychangers were there to change pilgrims’ money into the coinage the Temple could receive to purchase sacrifices and also for the payment of the half-shekel tax levied on all Jews.
So, what is the point of Jesus’ actions?
Jesus turned over the tables in the temple, but he was doing more than that. He was turning upside down the entire notion of what the church is. The church is here for the glory of God. Period.
Sometimes, I think we forget that. We’ve been in the process for several months of considering regathering plans that will have to be approved by the Diocese to have in-person worship once the number of COVID cases in Shenandoah County has dropped enough to make it safer to gather. In an early draft of that plan, I wrote something about the Kingdom of God. All I’ll say is that I basically wrote a theological heresy. The sentence sounded good, but boy, had I gotten it wrong. I had neglected to state clearly that we, the church, exists for the glory of God. Period. I got it right, I think, in the most recent draft. We the people are the church and the challenge is really more simple than any of us often make it.
The gospel portrays Jesus in a public act that confronts religious and government institutions. Frankly, if we look at this account, we should be shocked that the authorities didn’t arrest Jesus right then. Because Rome holds the ultimate power.
But when do we overturn the tables in the world around us? When do we stand us for what we know is right? And when do we know that our stands are for God and not for our personal agendas? And when can we look within ourselves and say, “I regret that I didn’t do this seventy years ago, as one nun I know who went to federal prison for two years for breaking into a federal facility did.
Lent is certainly a time for overthrowing the tables in our Christian life. The word Lent is derived from a Saxon word for “spring”. In the early church, Lent was viewed as a spiritual spring, a time of light and joy in the renewal of the soul’s life. It represented a return to a life in which God was once more center and source. In the ancient church, it was also a time that people were prepared for baptism.
I think that was we are hearing in John’s gospel today is Jesus trying to let the people of the temple know that they needed to get their priorities straight. That the business of the temple must be the business for which God has established it and that they cannot allow the culture to dictate its agenda, its leadership, its mission, or its standards. That they must be prepared to follow God, even when it means moving against the culture.
How are we called to do that today?
As Episcopalians, as Christians, we are called to do that every time we see injustice and discrimination in the world around us. When we see people treated differently because of the color of their skin, condemned because of the people they love, or ignored because they aren’t wealthy and powerful. We are called to understand the wrongs of the past and see what we must do to change the future. And when we do that we can rejoice – not joy for ourselves, but joy because we are part of the most incredible ongoing piece of human history – the glory of the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.