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Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Sunday 11 March, 2012
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt

How would you name this Gospel story?

·         Jesus overturns the tables

·         Jesus cleanses the Temple

·         Jesus defends the pilgrims from the extortionist behaviour of the money changers.

·         Jesus loses his temper with the temple workers.

However we name it, the anger of Jesus in this story is a terrifying thing.

Christ with a whip is a shocking image.

This is the only account of Jesus using physical force in any of the Gospels and

it stops us in our tracks.

Let’s look at the detail of what happened in the story:

We read in the Gospel of John, that Jesus, being a faithful Jew was doing what all good Jews were expected to do by making the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover in the temple.  

On their arrival, as Jesus and his disciples entered the temple they walked straight into a cacophony.

The outer court of the temple was full of traders selling cattle, sheep and doves to the pilgrims who needed certified animals for their obligatory worship sacrifices in the temple.

In addition there were also money changers sitting at tables exchanging the secular currency of the pilgrims for the temple currency so that they could pay their obligatory temple tax.

The outer court of the temple was the only place where non Jews, also known as gentiles, were allowed to come and pray.

As Jesus surveyed the chaotic scene he suddenly seemed to snap. He became incensed by what he saw and in a fit of righteous anger he improvised a whip which he used to chase the animals from the temple.

He then went on to scatter the coffers of the money changers and overturned their tables demanding irately:

 "How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

You can imagine the scene, it  was dramatic, provocative and upsetting.

Furniture was broken,

animals went running,

coins went flying all over the floor..   

It must have been terribly disconcerting for the disciples in particular, to witness Jesus displaying such uncharacteristically, angry behaviour!

What I wonder was it about what Jesus saw in the money changers and the merchants that moved him to this display of white hot anger in the temple courts?

I have already alluded to the fact that the buying and selling of sacrificial animals took place in the court of the gentiles, the only place where they were allowed to pray and worship God. The din of the market place would have made it near nigh impossible for anyone  to pray there on this day anyway. The noise of the  animals and the traders would have effectively shut the gentile seekers out from any prayerful activity and from any experience of the presence of God.

Is this what angered Jesus?

In Mark we read that Jesus declares to the traders:

“My house shall be called of all nations, a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!”

It would seem that Jesus was outraged that these traders were being so selfish. They were making it virtually impossible for the seeking stranger to make contact with God in the temple.

Or perhaps Jesus was enraged at the economic injustice that the money changers were inflicting on the pilgrims. They were fleecing these pilgrims who needed temple money and approved animals for sacrifice in order to worship in the temple.

Profiteering in the name of religion offended him.

In Matthew Jesus says to them:

 “My house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves!”

Or perhaps Jesus was angry that the holiness of His Father’s house was being desecrated.

The temple had been set aside as a sacred space where people could worship God and express their devotion to Him. Various religious rituals and traditions had evolved to facilitate this but these had been corrupted and temple money and sacrifices had taken the place of  true worship and devotion.

Jesus would have found this sickening.

In John we read:

“Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house, a house of merchandise.”

Whichever, and perhaps it was for all of the above reasons, that we find Jesus fuming, in the midst of a public square, mixing politics and spirituality as he makes a very public protest about social injustice and authentic worship. These are two issues we know from the Scriptures are very dear to God’s heart.

In fact he is so angry that his protest extends to breaking the law for it was forbidden in Jewish law to have a weapon of any description in the vicinity of the temple precinct, albeit a relatively harmless weapon.

It seems to me that the power of the incident lies less in its specific cause and more in Jesus’ response to anything that denigrates worship and represents social injustice. We learn from his response that he feels passionately about authentic worship and social justice. Violations of either incur his righteous anger. This is in keeping with the tradition of the prophets and their prophetic messages about the heart of God also. Nothing angers God more than insincere worship and social injustice. Both cut into the essence of God which is truth and love and is evidenced in the great commandment.

“Love God and love your neighbour.”

Do not trivialize worship of the great I AM.

Do not exploit or oppress others.

As Jesus cleanses the temple we see the story highlighting why he has come into the world.

Jesus has come to purify the human race, to sanctify and cleanse humans from corruption and to help them build a right relationship with God through authentic worship.  This is his prophetic message and ministry.

In essence  the cleansing of the temple functions as  a stark warning against violating God’s statutes and ordinances for it touches on the implications  of the first four commandments which deal with our relationship with God,

Jesus makes it clear that he will not tolerate any breaches of the commandments which demand that we give God our greatest respect God and authentically make him the first priority in our lives.

“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other God’s before me, you shall have no graven image, you shall worship me alone, you shall not take my name in vain, you will set a day aside to honour me.” 

 And it deals with the last six which relates to the respect with which we need to treat our neighbours.

Now here is a challenging proposition:

If Jesus were to arrive at our church today,

if he were to walk into our homes and into our society today what might he find there that might incense him in the way that those money changers and merchants incensed him 2000 years ago?

What behaviours, practices and attitudes would he find here that would incense him?

What are some of the tables that Jesus might  overturn in our time.

I’d like to repeat the question:

If Jesus were to arrive at our church today, if he were to walk into our homes and into our lives today what might he find that might incense him in the way that those money changers and merchants incensed him?

·       They were making it virtually impossible for the seeking stranger to make contact with God.

·       Profiteering in the name of religion offended him.

·       Temple money and sacrifices had taken the place of  true worship and devotion

What are the worship practices and or social injustices in our time, in our corner of the vineyard that he would find unacceptable?

Now would you pray in silence and ask the Holy Spirit to help us all to see what needs to change around here so that we can become a more God honouring community.

what needs Jesus’ cleansing in our church and in our society,

what needs his restoration that we might be purified of those things which are in our lives and which displease God,

those things which stand in the way of offering God our sincere, authentic and spirit-filled worship and extending his justice and mercy to his people?

The cleansing of the temple is a troubling and important story.

In this story Jesus mixes politics and spirituality.

We are called to follow in this tradition  and like him to be salt and light.

Remember that Salt not only flavours things but also stings. People sometimes say you cannot mix politics and religion. Jesus behaves in a way that says that when it comes to social justice, they are inseparable!

As Christians then we need to be agents for changes that speak the gospel into our world.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit the Encourager will give us the strength to stand up

to an unjust conflict,

unjust economic policies,

discriminatory practices wherever we find them.

May the church extrapolate from this story the call to be courageous enough to stand firm on those issues which are near to the heart of God and to avoid being railroaded and distracted by religious paraphanalia that diverts our efforts from the kingdom work we have been called to engage in.

In the pursuit of God’s kingdom here on earth, we are called to get our hands, feet and clothes dirty in the world for the cause of right. Sometimes we may even get a bloody nose as we are called express righteous anger.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”

may well involve  a costly and messy partnership with God’s cleansing messiah. 

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