This morning’s reading from the Gospel of John tells the very well – known story about Jesus cleansing the temple. The setting for this story takes place with Jesus traveling to Jerusalem with the disciples, to celebrate the Jewish Passover and cleansing is part of the celebration. The Passover is the greatest feast of the Jewish year.
Jesus had been many times to a Passover in Jerusalem, but the difference this time is that this is the first time He has attended during His public ministry. The temple courts would have been filled with thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had travelled from great distances to offer animal sacrifices and participate in religious ceremonies. They did not own livestock so they had to purchase them from the sellers at the Temple. There were also money changers to enable them to pay for the animals and also to pay the temple tax which could equate to the wages of two day’s work. The atmosphere would have been quite overpowering with the noise, the crush of so many people, due to the large number taking part in the celebration and the bustle of activity around the vendors sitting at their hundreds of tables.
I always like to picture these events and as I have mentioned in my previous words of wisdom I find holiday experiences help me to bring these passages alive for me. So this morning we are visiting Marrakesh. I visited Marrakesh, a city in Morocco, a few years ago and visited the main square where a massive market takes place. Like so many of the other hundred holidaymakers, from all over the world, I was mesmerised by the many tables displaying a variety of goods reflecting their culture and history. At times, the crowds could be quite frightening and the noise of all the different languages was difficult to absorb. However this did not detract from a truly unique experience for me and in a way perhaps has given me a little insight into the scene that Jesus was faced with when He entered the Temple.
Jesus would have been aware of all this noise and activity and He may have noticed the heightened emotions and air of expectancy when the crowds saw Him enter the Temple, but his main thought would have been how could the people behave like this? The temple was supposed to be a place of worship, a place to meet God.
What Jesus saw, was that the sellers and money changers were exploiting the most vulnerable of people for their financial profit. They were there for their own greed which had nothing to do with worship and prayer and respecting God’s house.
What Jesus saw, was that the tables were set up in the outer court of the Temple which had been set aside especially for Gentiles to come and worship and develop a personal relationship with God.
What Jesus saw, was that this was not an outreach to the Gentiles. Instead of this being a house of worship it had been transformed into a house of merchandise where there was no sense of the presence of God.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus said, “is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?”
His actions of dispersing the animals and over turning the tables might indicate His first response was a feeling of anger but perhaps by taking the time to make a whip of cord demonstrates that it would give Him time to think carefully about how He would react and His anger was channelled into a display of authority, the authority to dictate what behaviour should be practiced in the temple.
As the money changers were frantically scrambling on the floor to recover their lost coins, Jesus tells them to stop turning His Father’s house into a market place.
This is a statement which publicly reveals He is the Son of God and this is what gave Him the authority for His dramatic actions in the Temple.
The Jewish religious leaders challenged Jesus to show a miraculous sign to prove His authority. Jesus responds by saying that if they destroy the Temple that Jesus would raise it in three days. The temple Jesus referred to was His own body.
The resurrection is the sign that the Jewish religious leaders asked for, the sign of Jesus’s authority to speak and act for God.
This passage on the third Sunday of Lent gives us a lot of food for thought and it may surprise you that I have focused on the question of the emotion of anger. This did not come straight away as I prepared for the words of wisdom for this morning, but took me by surprise, as the more I tried to ignore it the stronger the message came that I should ask the question
“Can we channel our anger as Jesus channelled his anger and use it for a positive outcome?” For many reading this passage, we may be surprised by Jesus’ response, to what was happening in the Temple and I am sure the disciples may have been a little taken aback as well at this unexpected behaviour of Jesus.
The problem with the emotion of anger, is that it can cloud our decisions and Jesus may have been angry but it did not detract from the true message which is being shared with us in John’s Gospel, God should be at the centre of our worship in everything we do and think. We can so easily be detracted from this message by letting ourselves become angry at the small insignificant events of our everyday lives.
We tend to avoid admitting to the emotion of anger as sometimes it leads to actions which we may be ashamed of, but there are times however when anger is okay, when anger is appropriate to the situation as shown in this passage. There are times when we should get angry about great injustices and inequality in our world. Jesus responded to the great injustice of the way the Gentiles were being treated and the vulnerable groups of people visiting the Temple who were being exploited by the sellers and the money changers.
We can find ourselves disengaging with what is happening in the world around us and accept that because these things have been happening for a long time then there is nothing we can do. The practices in the Temple had been passed down for generations, but the time had come that Jesus wanted it to change. We should not tolerate long established practices but explore how we can influence change. We should not accept just because we have always done something in a certain way it is the right way. This is a real challenge for us in moving forward in our Christian journey to meet the needs of the future.
Jesus was bold in His message and His actions and let us have the courage to speak boldly and act boldly in our actions, for sometimes by showing anger we show that we care for one another and the world in which we live.
I would like to finish with some words from one of my favourite books, The Still Small Voice, which I have referred to on numerous occasions.
As we think of Jesus we think not just of prayer and quiet retreat
But a life of action, of tables overturned,
Of lives touched and healed, endless walks through arid deserts, To the next place of hurt and need.