This is possibly one of the noisiest passages in the Gospels: there are cows and sheep, doves and coins of all denomination jangling around. It is also Passover so the city is full of religious tourists, and the Temple Courts are full of people wanting to buy their ritual purification – and others seeking to make a fortune out of this annual opportunity.
Enter Jesus. He is about to prove once and for that he is not ‘meek and mild’ – he is no pushover, no cheek turning pacifist, he is an angry young man, a righteously angry young man.
As if the scene wasn’t noisy enough, Jesus storms in, grabbing cords and shaping them into a whip, he sets the animals free driving them out of temple. He then pours out the money changers coins onto the floor and turns over the tables. There will be angry shouts from the traders and the religious leaders, people screaming from shock and fear as everything moves very quickly and danger seems close at hand. This feels like an uprising and the Roman Soldiers will only be moments away. Read it here.
In the midst of all this the disciples have a moment of clarity.
The disciples may seem a raggle taggle bunch of outsiders, troublemakers and fishermen, but they are all at heart ‘good Jewish boys’ – they have been taught their Torah, they regularly attend synagogues and go to the Temple for the festivals. When Jesus starts his protest they are reminded of a line from a Psalm of David,
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.
As these familiar words come to mind they see something new in Jesus. He is indeed the Son of David, the Messiah, and this turning of the tables is not simply a temper tantrum, this is a cleansing of a place of worship, the house of God, which has become polluted by greed.
The same disciples will have another moment of clarity once this event has come to its full conclusion, when Jesus has taken his place upon the cross.
In the midst of the chaos Jesus is asked for a sign to prove that he has authority to cleanse the temple. It seems as if the question is upside down really, what authority does anyone have to pollute it in the first place, to prevent others from worshipping God. Jesus doesn’t turn this question on its head though, instead he declares that if the Temple, this Temple is torn down, he will raise it in three days.
This is nonsense. The Jerusalem temple is known for its grandeur, it has already taken 46 years to get to where it is and although the magnificence of the building is not to be rivalled, it is still not complete. Why on earth would they want to destroy it, and how could one man rebuild something that has taken teams of skilled craftsmen years to do?
Jesus is talking in riddles again, it seems, this bizarre comment is swept away by his opponents (until they can use it against him) and the disciples add it to the list of Jesus’ ‘difficult sayings’ that they simply cannot comprehend.
Later though, they will remember it. They will count the days, and do the maths, they will look back on all that took place that Passover and they will realise that Jesus wasn’t speaking of the ornate building, but the true Temple of God. There is only one way we can truly come close to God. The ritual sacrifices that cluttered up the outer courts and prevented Gentiles from being a part of God’s kingdom did nothing to build the kingdom, and certainly didn’t delight or bring joy to God. The only sacrifice that could ever, can ever achieve that is one of love. Jesus’ love on the cross as he laid down his life, ours for God as we seek to worship him and serve others. The Temple through which our worship can reach into the heart of God is Jesus himself, and he will be torn down, and raised three days later. And if the resurrection isn’t enough evidence of that, as Jesus, the true Temple and heart of worship was ‘torn down’ the curtain in the temple which separated God’s people from the holy of holies was also torn.
In the midst of the mind blowing, earth shattering last moments of being a Disciple of Jesus, the 12 found themselves remembering small things, words recited at school and in the synagogue, words that had puzzled them and been put to one side had come to life. As these words unexpectedly flourished, so did their understanding of who Jesus truly is and so their faith deepened.
And so I am challenged this lent to think about what forgotten memories I have tucked away in the recesses of my mind. What memory verses, what hymns and spiritual poems can shed light on my relationship with Jesus? What will be revealed to me that is new and fresh in the old story of redemption and resurrection and what will bring it to life for me once more?
Something to watch:
Something to do:
Without reading the Gospel passage try to recall all the details of the account of Jesus’ ‘temper tantrum’. If meeting in a group, see what different aspects you each bring to it.
Light a candle, then read John 2:13-22 out loud. What stands out for you now?
Something to think about:
- Have you ever felt a sense of injustice at the supermarket?
- What have you done about it?
- Who was Jesus most angry with: the traders, Religious leaders or those shopping?
- Why was it necessary to set the animals free?
- In this passage Jesus is a man of action and few words – what do those words say to you in the light of the resurrection?
- In the midst of chaos and later, doubt, the disciples were able to take a moment to remember holy words that helped them to see clearly God at work. How can we find moments like this in our hectic lives?
- Take a moment to ‘remember’ something, write it down somewhere you can be reminded of it.
Something to listen to:
Something to pray (Patrick Woodhouse):