Grace to you and peace,
Sisters and brothers in Christ, God is always doing a new thing. God is always moving us in the direction of change, evolving us toward greater faithfulness, deeper peace, fuller grace.
That’s true in this exciting story as well. All the Gospels have a story about Jesus in the temple overturning the tables. But interestingly, this one comes right at the beginning of his ministry. Chapter 2! Matthew, Mark and Luke all have Jesus driving out the money-changers not until the beginning of Holy Week, at the end of his earthly ministry. It’s part of what fuels the chief priests and scribes’ fire to have him arrested and finally crucified, remember? But here Jesus does it at the beginning of his 3 year ministry. What do you think did he do this twice? Did John forget to mention him doing it again a few days before his passion, death and resurrection?
Whatever conclusion you come to, what is happening here, is something different in terms of what this means. John’s Gospel, as you’re probably learning this year is very different!
For one thing, Jesus doesn’t show much emotion. He doesn’t call names — he doesn’t call them “robbers”. I don’t even think he seems all that angry, like in the other Gospels. In John, it’s not an inditement on money corruption, economic inequalities, social injustice. Jesus just says, “Don’t make this a marketplace.” In John, it’s always a deeply spiritual matter...which can arrive us at those other issues. But what’s happening here first is a radical theological replacement.
See, the people were used to buying cattle, sheep and doves when they arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. That’s what you did as part of the ritual sacrifice, that’s how the people celebrated Passover. First, they sacrificed by traveling all the way to Jerusalem every year...specifically to the temple, the only place where God was believed to dwell. And then, when they get there, after walking all those miles, they’d buy an animal to sacrifice. Like Professor Karoline Lewis said, “You’re not gonna schlep a sheep from Galilee.”
So everyone was used to seeing this mall of animals, like a farmers market, in the inner walls of the temple. And for the “money changers” — by the way — this very well could have been their livelihood... I have a friend who used to act out this scene, from the perspective of the money changers: Jesus knocking over everything: “Man. That’s my dinner tonight, man. How am I going to feed my family this month. Who is this guy?” I think that’s an interesting commentary on this story in Matthew Mark and Luke. But here in John, Jesus is doing something radically theological (as opposed to political in the other cases):
Jesus is throwing out ritual sacrifice. He is throwing out the idea that you have to buy something to earn God’s favor. I’d even say, as a Lutheran, he’s throwing out the idea that you have to do something to earn God’s good graces. Radical theological replacement, you see. He’s throwing out the idea too that God only lives in the high temple, in the holiest of holies, there in Jerusalem.
What’s happening here, already in chapter 2, is that we’re getting to see that God is breaking out, God — i.e. Christ himself — is breaking beyond the walls and the rules of the temple and the tradition. In fact, Christ himself is the temple now! There is no one place to go where you can visit God. God is out there on the road.
We see that in John as Jesus just. keeps. moving!
Holiness is everywhere now, not just in temples or churches.
And because it’s everywhere we’re no longer chained to a checklist of sacrifices and journeys we have to make. Jesus becomes the temple. And this temple, that is his body, is nothin’ but love. Nothing but abundant life and peace and forgiveness and grace! Overflowing, all encompassing holiness.
That’s what we’re offered now. Here.
When holiness shows up everywhere, when we’re covered by Christ, then we do start to act differently, we do start to see differently, we do start to use our money differently, vote differently, speak differently, serve differently. We don’t change our ways because there’s some kind of reward at the end! That’s the old ritual sacrifice transaction: I’ll give you this, God...so that will will give me that.
We don’t barter with God! We already have this reward!
We only respond to God...who through Christ, who always acts first in LOVE and generosity. God always makes the first move, all we can do is respond (great statement of faith!).
When people are doing cruel things, especially church people, or people that say they’re Christians, it always makes me sad because it’s like they’re reading the Bible but not understanding it. They’re reading something, and at the same time not seeing/getting/receiving that this God is pouring out love and forgiveness FIRST. Not after we make some kind of sacrifice or do some kind of ritual or good work to earn this.
On this Martin Luther King Jr. week, I was listening to an interview of Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. John Lewis was a Freedom Rider, marched with Dr. King and participated in those famous sit-ins in the Deep South, where he and other African Americans would walk into a diner and just sit quietly, longing to be served. People would spit on them because they were black, they’d pour hot coffee and syrup on them, call them all kinds of horrible names…
And as John Lewis talked about this and other forms of non-violent resistance he said at the heart of it all was love. “You have to love your enemies and those who persecute you.”
And then he told this story from just a couple years ago, when a former KKK member requested an audience with Lewis because he wanted to apologize. And with tears in his eyes this now-very-old white man says, “I’m sorry for what I did to you, those many years ago. My heart was filled with hate. Not anymore. Will you accept my apology?” And John Lewis said, “I accept your apology,” and then reflects calmly in this interview, “See, that’s the power of radical love, the love of Jesus. It’s the most powerful force in the world, and it has the power to overturn the tables.”
Friends in Christ, Jesus in the temple, this “cleansing” is breaking us out of old, oppressive ways and systems. And inviting us again — “come and see” — inviting us again down the road of discipleship, down the path of Jesus. This is a radical theological replacement! Love not law. No more burdens or chains. Freedom is walking the way of compassion and forgiveness. New life.
This love, grace, mercy and cleansing healing is for you. It’s right here and now. Take a deep, Johanine breath: soak it up. Chew it down, drink it in. Taste and see that God is good. Feast on this abundance that Christ offers freely to you today. The old has been replaced with AGAPE — unconditional love — and so we. have. been. made. new. Greater faithfulness, deeper peace, fuller grace. Thanks be to God. AMEN.