God in a Box, God in a Bod: August 9, 2014
the text: John 2:13-25
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
In the beginning…? – There are so many interesting things about Jesus’ temple act in the book of John. I will try to be brief. John’s account is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, whereas Matt, Mark and Luke have theirs near the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Why? We’re not sure other than the writers are more interested in themes and theology than chronology.
The Whips – John is the only gospel to report that Jesus used the whips. Sometimes people want to argue whether or not Jesus used them only on the animals or the people too. I like the NRSV above because it clearly points out what was intended for who. Jesus does get angry, giving us a model for anger at injustice, but he never violates his character by assaulting human beings. A million more words could be written here about Jesus' confrontation of those who have turned worship into a business, often excluding the poorer class. We could speak about the injustices, non-violence, and Jesus' preferential option for the poor, but that is only a part of this passage. The main thrust is much bigger. Jesus isn't only angry because of these people with money commodifying holy things. Jesus is dismantling a system that puts boundaries around who can access God.
Jesus’ Body is a temple-land (cue John Mayer) – John reveals the meaning of one of Jesus’ mysterious sayings so we don’t have to wonder. Jesus is claiming that his body is the new temple. Well, what is a temple good for anyway? For one, it is where God lives. Second, it is where people come to meet God, usually by prayer and atoning for their sins by bringing animals to be sacrificed. And third, to celebrate life with God in the bringing of tithes, offerings, dedicating children, etc. But Jesus’ act with the whips is more than zeal for the temple. Often people want to title this section “Jesus cleanses the temple,” but cleansing is far from his mind. Jesus’ act is a symbolic act of destruction and replacing. The temple is old hat. Jesus’ body is the new place where believers encounter God. Jesus’ body is the once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice through the cross. Jesus is the life abundant that we celebrate. This is why Christians don't build temples; Jesus is our temple. John Wesley writes that Jesus was “… [probably] pointing, while he spoke, to his body, the temple and habitation of the Godhead.”
Passover – What I find most interesting about the Passover here, besides Jesus, a Jewish man, making giant, contrary, theological claims about himself, is that this is a holy season. This is the time we would have fasted and prayed, and, yet, the hearts of humans are closed to the divinity that is in front of them - so much so that Jesus did not entrust himself to them.
Here we have Jesus’ first claims about himself. This temple action sets up for us a lens for how we are to understand what Jesus is doing and saying throughout the rest of the Gospel. And what he is saying is, in part, that he is the new temple. Jesus is the place and the means by which we are in relationship with God. When we believe and trust into Jesus, we have access to boldly approach our Father. Because what Jesus reveals here is that God is not confined to a building or to a people. God is everywhere and for all. Jesus has broken the walls down to who and how we access the Father. We can, now, come to the God through Christ by the Holy Spirit at all times and for all manner of things. The author of Hebrews encourages us similarly, “Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” (Hebrews 10:19-23).
Today is Saturday, traditionally a day of rest. Take some time to pray today. Sit in meditation on this passage. Pray for a long period of time in a restful posture (a hammock, laying in your bed, in your prayer closet, in the bath, in your favorite chair). Allow for silence. Allow yourself to hear from Christ. Ask questions and don’t just pray through your to-do list. Do pray through distractions and wanderings that your mind will bring up (it’s ok, we all do it, press on). Pray through your journey with Christ. Where are you honestly? Where do you hope to be?
Jesus is the place where heaven meets earth. Grab your whips and clear out the things that separate you from God. And then come and see, with bold faith, that Jesus is where God is, that there is pardon and healing for brokenness here, that there is life and joy and wholeness here.