The Third Sunday in Lent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
John 2:13-22

(Audio is not available)
THE STORY OF JESUS’ CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE IS SO SIGNIFICANT THAT IT IS FOUND IN ALL FOUR OF THE GOSPELS. IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS OF MATTHEW, MARK, AND LUKE, THE EVENTS OCCUR THE DAY AFTER JESUS’ TRIUMPHAL RIDE INTO JERUSALEM. IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, THE EVENTS OCCUR EARLY IN JESUS’ PUBLIC MINISTRY, SOON AFTER THE WEDDING AT CANA. SINCE THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS ARE MORE CONCERNED WITH HISTORICAL ACCURACY THAN JOHN, THE INCIDENT PROBABLY DID HAPPEN DURING WHAT WE NOW CALL HOLY WEEK, AND WAS THE FINAL STRAW FOR THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES IN THEIR DESIRE TO BE RID OF THIS JESUS CHARACTER. JOHN USES THIS STORY AT THE BEGINNING OF HIS GOSPEL AS THE MEANS OF ILLUSTRATING WHO JESUS IS, THE CONFLICT HE BRINGS, AND WHY THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES HAD TO GET RID OF HIM.

THE WAY THE STORY IS PRESENTED, WE THINK, AT FIRST, THAT JESUS WAS OVERCOME WITH ANGER AT WHAT HE SAW GOING ON IN THE COURTYARD OF THE TEMPLE OF GOD. NOW, HE MAY INDEED HAVE BEEN ANGRY, BUT WE MUST NOTE THAT HE TOOK THE TIME TO MAKE A WHIP OUT OF ROPE CORDS THAT WERE LITTERING THE GROUND. IT TOOK SOME TIME TO DO THIS, AND I CAN IMAGINE THE DISCIPLES WATCHING HIM AND WONDERING WHAT HE WAS DOING. WHAT JESUS DID WAS NOT SPUR OF THE MOMENT, BUT WAS CLEARLY A CALCULATED ACTION. WITH HIS WHIP, HE STARTED A STAMPEDE OF THE CATTLE AND SHEEP, AND THEN SPILLED OUT THE COINS OF THE MONEY CHANGERS, TURNED OVER THEIR TABLES, AND SHOUTED AT THE DOVE SELLERS, “STOP MAKING MY FATHER’S HOUSE A MARKETPLACE!”

THIS HARDLY SOUNDS LIKE THE GENTLE JESUS OF WHOM WE SING IN SUNDAY SCHOOL, OR OF ALL THOSE IMAGES OF HIM CARRYING THE LOST SHEEP. THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE OTHER THAN THE JESUS WE THINK WE KNOW. I CONTEND THAT IF WE DO NOT KNOW THIS JESUS TUNING OVER THE TABLES IN THE TEMPLE, WE DO NOT REALLY KNOW JESUS.

BY THE TIME JESUS WALKED ONTO THE TEMPLE MOUNT, THE WORSHIP OF GOD HAD BECOME SO RITUALIZED AND COMMERCIALIZED THAT IT WAS ALMOST A PARODY OF WORSHIP. THE RITUALS OF PURITY HAD BECOME MEANS OF SEPARATION AND DISCRIMINATION. GENTILES IN THE OUTER COURT WITH THE DIRTY ANIMALS, WOMEN ON THE OUTSIDE, MEN ON THE INSIDE, FAT SHEEP FOR THE RICH TO OFFER, PIGEONS AND DOVES FOR THE POOR, AND THE SOUND OF THE SHEKELS RINGING DOWN THE TRUMPET – LIKE RECEIVERS INTO THE TREASURY. SO JESUS ACTED IN THE TRADITION OF THE PROPHETS WHO CAME BEFORE HIM, LIKE MICHA AND AMOS WHO PROCLAIMED THAT GOD WANTED MERCY AND JUSTICE MORE THAN OFFERINGS, AND IN SO DOING HE CHALLENGED THE LEGITIMACY OF THE ENTIRE RITUALIZED TEMPLE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM.

JESUS OVERTURNED MORE THAN THE TABLES ON THAT DAY. IN CLEARING THE TEMPLE COURTYARD AND DISRUPTING THE SYSTEM, HE PROCLAIMED IN ACTION THAT THE TRUE WORSHIP OF GOD WAS NOT TO BE FOUND IN THE SMOKE OF THE SACRIFICE OR THE GIVING OF MONEY, BUT IN A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. THUS, WHEN CHALLENGED BY THE TEMPLE AUTHORITIES AS TO WHAT SIGN FROM GOD HE HAD TO AUTHORIZE WHAT HE DID, THE SIGN HE POINTED TO WAS HIMSELF. “DESTROY THIS TEMPLE, AND IN THREE DAYS I WILL RAISE IT UP.” OF COURSE THEY COULDN’T OR WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND THAT, SO THEY DECIDED HE HAD TO DIE.

THIS STORY OF THE CLEANING OF THE TEMPLE SERVES AS A REMINDER THAT WE BEST NOT THINK WE HAVE A COMFORTABLE HANDLE ON JESUS, BECAUSE WHEN WE DO WE ARE PROBABLY GOING TO GET OUR TABLE KICKED OVER. I CAN IMAGINE THE DISCOMFORT OF THE DISCIPLES WHEN JESUS STARTED THE STAMPEDE, AND TURNED OVER THE TABLES AND TOSSED COINS IN THE AIR. THEY THOUGHT THEY KNEW HIM, AND SUDDENLY HE CHALLENGED THE ENTIRE TEMPLE SYSTEM AND PUT THEM ALL AT RISK. JUST WHEN WE GET COMFORTABLE WITH JESUS, AND WE THINK WE KNOW HIM, HE WILL TURN OVER ALL OUR EXPECTATIONS, AND WE MAY VERY WELL FIND OURSELVES IN SOME UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATIONS. THIS GENTLE JESUS, WHO WE THINK WE KNOW SO WELL, IS, IN FACT, THE ONE WHO CONTINUES TO CONFRONT THE ENTIRE SYSTEM OF THIS WORLD, AND HE CALLS US TO BE A PART OF THAT CONFRONTATION.

THIS IS WHY JOHN PUTS THIS STORY UP FRONT IN HIS GOSPEL; SO THAT YOU WILL KNOW, WITHOUT DOUBT, WHO THIS JESUS IS. HE IS THE DIVINE WORD WHO CREATED ALL THINGS, AND WHO HAS COME INTO THE WORLD HE CREATED, AND WHICH CANNOT SEE HIM FOR WHO HE IS. THE SIGNS WHICH HE WILL DO WILL POINT TO WHO HE IS, BUT THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT TO FOLLOW JESUS MEANS TO STAND WITH HIM AGAINST THE POWERS AND RULERS OF THIS WORLD.

BEING A PART OF THAT CONFRONTATION WITH THE WORLD MEANS PUTTING OUR SELVES AT RISK FOR CHRIST AND IN HIS NAME. IT MEANS LEAVING OUR COMFORT ZONE AND OUR WATERED DONE UNDERSTANDING OF OUR LORD. IT MEANS TAKING THE RISK TO SPEAK OUT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NO VOICE. IT MEANS TAKING THE RISK TO BE FORGIVING. IT MEANS TAKING THE RISK TO LOVE THE UNLOVABLE. IT MEANS TAKING THE RISK TO PROTECT THE VULNERABLE. IT MEANS TAKING THE RISK TO STAND UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT, WHATEVER THE PERSONAL COST. IT MEANS TAKING THE RISK TO SHARE WHAT WE HAVE, EVEN WITH THOSE WHO SHOW NO GRATITUDE. IT MIGHT EVEN INVOLVE THE KICKING OVER OF SOME TABLES AND UPSETTING THOSE IN THE SEATS OF POWER. REMEMBER, ASKING WHAT WOULD JESUS DO MIGHT INVOLVE MAKING A WHIP OR TWO.

IN THIS LENTEN SEASON, AS WE STRIVE TO WALK A LITTLE CLOSER WITH OUR LORD, WE MIGHT ASK OURSELVES HOW WELL WE KNOW HIM AND WHAT IT IS THAT HE WANTS OF US. THE JESUS OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND THE JESUS WHO TURNS OVER THE TABLES IN THE TEMPLE IS THE SAME PERSON, AND THAT OUGHT TO GIVE US PAUSE FOR THOUGHT. WHENEVER I GET TOO COMFORTABLE WITH THE GENTLE JESUS WHO WALKS WITH HUMILITY TO THE CROSS, I AM EVER REMINDED THAT HE CALLS ME TO MAKE THE SAME WALK; PERHAPS EVEN INTO THE LINES OF UNIFORMED MEN WITH GUNS AND WATER HOSES AND SNARLING DOGS LIKE AT SELMA FIFTY YEARS AGO.

FOR THOSE WHO ARE CALLED TO HIM, CHRIST IS THE POWER OF GOD AND THE WISDOM OF GOD. WHATEVER RISK HE CALLS US TO TAKE IN HIS NAME, WE CAN DO SO EVEN WHEN IT FRIGHTENS US OR MAKES US UNCOMFORTABLE. ALWAYS BEHIND THE GENTLE JESUS, I CAN, LIKE THE WRITER OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, SEE CHRISTOS PANTOCRATOR, CHRIST THE RULER OF ALL, AND HE IS THE ONE WHO HAS CALLED US TO HIMSELF. IN HIM ONLY WE HAVE OUR HOPE AND OUR BEING, NO MATTER WHERE HE LEADS OR WHAT HE CALLS US TO DO, FOR IN HIS CROSS IS OUR VICTORY OVER THE WORLD.
AMEN

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