First Congregational Church
March 7, 2021
Third Sunday in Lent
“The Heart of the Matter”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A young girl who was writing a paper for school came to her father and asked: “Dad, what is the difference between anger and exasperation?” The father replied: “It is mostly a matter of degree. Let me show you what I mean.”
With that the father went to the telephone and dialed a random number. To the man who answered the phone, he said: “Hello, is Melvin there?” The man answered: “There is no one living here named Melvin. Why don’t you learn to look up numbers before you dial.”
After hanging up, the father said to his daughter, “See? That man was not a bit happy with our call. He was probably very busy with something and we annoyed him. Now watch.”
The father dialed the number again. “Hello, is Melvin there?” asked the father. “Now look here!” came the heated reply. “You just called this number and I told you that there is no Melvin here! You’ve got a lot of guts calling again!” The receiver slammed down hard.
The father turned to his daughter and said: “You see, that was anger. Now I’ll show you what exasperation means.” He dialed the same number, and when a violent voice roared: “Hello!” The father calmly said: “Hello, this is Melvin. Have there been any calls for me?”
As some have already guessed, yes, there is exasperation in today’s Bible passage. When it comes to the four Gospels, one of these things is not like the others - as has been said on Sesame Street. The gospel of John is the one that begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh” - very prophetic and grandeur. After talking about the Word being the Light of the World, still in the first Chapter, John the Baptist is questioned about being the Messiah, which he denies, and then Jesus shows up, whom John the Baptist calls The Lamb of God. The first chapter of John ends with Andrew and Peter hearing Jesus, deciding to follow him, and Jesus calling Nathanael and Philip to join them. Chapter two begins with Jesus turning water into wine and just like that, we are at the passage for this morning.
Scripture John 2:13-22
Jesus Clears the Temple Courts
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[a]
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Thank you, Betty. Much as one might rather stay away from this passage altogether, once you start digging, there’s a number of interesting points, beginning with the fact that of this passage being so near the front of John’s gospel.
1. All four gospels include this scene, but John is the only one that puts it out-of-sequence at the beginning of his version. There are some people who understand that because this is in the beginning and the other gospels have it nearer to Jesus’ death, that he cleared the temple twice.
2. Knowing a little about John, I would tend to understand that there was just one clearing of the temple, and that John used this passage as a thesis to say something very significant about the identity and work of Christ - right from the get-go, portraying Christ as the Messiah and Redeemer. If John didn’t purposefully placed this scene early in his gospel, wouldn’t it have been more fitting to arrest Jesus then - going right from making wedding wine to clearing the most sacred space of the Temple - rather than three years later?
3. Retired guy, Stephen Garnaas Holmes had some interesting corrections from his Sunday School misconceptions. And I have to say, that going back and re-reading, he’s got some interesting points. Because of all the action - and all the artistry offerings such as those on the bulletin cover this week - it is practically effortless to envision Jesus storming into the temple in a rage. But if you look carefully, he walks into the temple and takes a look around, and based on what he sees, then he makes a whip.
4. And it takes time and patience to braid a whip. At least at the beginning of the scene, it’s not an outburst, but more like a peaceful observation and demonstration.
5. Also, Jesus didn’t use the whip on people, but to herd the animals. The passage says that after making the whip, Jesus drove all - and I’ll bet a lot of us allow our brains to stop there. But the sentence continues - Jesus drove all, both sheep and cattle.
6. The wording doesn’t tell us how he scattered the coins and overturned the tables, so there is a possibility that those things could have been done with some reservation of emotion and/or energy.
7. Notice, too, that Jesus doesn’t say that someone should get the money changers out of there. It was the dove sellers who were to get out of there. In prior times, the animal exchange happened much further away from the temple - separation of commerce and religion?. In fact, the money changers belonged there. The money changers took all sorts of coinage - from all over the known world - to trade it for “clean” money - or at least a standardized exchange - to make the sacrifices.
8. The changers were doing what had been in practice for hundreds and hundreds of years, exchanging human brokenness for something else - animals, money, grain, as a offering sacrifice.
9. This exchange is how the term of scapegoat came into being. Once a year, the sins of the people were symbolically piled onto a spotless goat that was sent out into the wilderness, where it - and the sins - would disappear.
10. Also of interest is that the passage doesn’t say that the money changers were overcharging for their services, which could have been a possibility.
In the last part of today’s passage, John details Jesus’ prophecy - that he would die and miraculously arise after three days. In fact, the last two verses of the passage tell us how the disciples remembered this whole event, the pieces of Jesus’ words finally falling into place.
This miraculous prophecy was so grandiose, it would be like Jesus saying that despite the temple not being finished after 46 years, after just three days, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York would stand tall and gleaming again, just like before planes flew into them. (Footnote: it took a year to clear the debris from that day in 2011 - even with modern machinery.)
Jesus’ point was that he would be the sacrifice, that there would no longer be a need for money changers, animals in synagogues or sent into deserts, that he would be the Temple to replace all that - and more. We don’t always get all that on our first read through this passage.
And then there’s another level to all of this, that comes out of verse 17, where it says, “His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Some of your Bibles may have a little notation at the end of that sentence that references Psalm 69.
Psalm 69 was written by the great King David, after he was insulted and injured because of his outrageous believe that God actually lived in the Temple of the Jewish People. The jeering ones had forgotten that it was God’s temple, believing that it was their place; they built it, so it was theirs. Jesus’ point in that quote was the reminder that the temple - however it looked - belonged to God and that’s what made it so spectacular.
Calvin Seminary guy, Scott Hoezee, put it like this. “Maybe others could walk past kiosks, cash registers, and blue light specials in the narthex of God’s house and not bat an eye, but as the very Son of God who himself would soon become the living, walking, breathing temple of God, Jesus took the affront of all this personally.”
One day in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station, a man with an open violin case in front of him played his fiddle for the passersby. Quite a few children and young people stopped and stared but were soon enough hustled off by their parents. About half a dozen people stayed for a minute or two before moving on to catch their train. A couple of dozen people threw money into the open violin case. After a while the violinist had collected a total of $32.17.
Three weeks earlier, the great Joshua Bell had played to a packed house in Boston where tickets for the good seats went for $100 a pop (and even the cheap seats cost more than Bell collected in the subway station that day).
Just to make the point even more keen, Bell was playing one of the most difficult and intricate pieces ever composed for the violin, on a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million. The whole stunt had been orchestrated by The Washington Post to see if anyone would notice. No one truly did, save perhaps for a few children who may have sensed something was up.
Later on, writer John will remind us of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now you do know him and have seen him.” (Jn 14:6-7) Methodist guy, William Willimon makes the subtle and crucial distinction, “Jesus has not come to tell us the truth nor point us toward the truth: “I am the truth,” he says. Truth is more than an idea; truth is personal, a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, rose unexpectedly, and returned to resume the conversation. God doesn’t wait for us to discover truth; God comes as the truth who speaks, who calls us to follow. Now the Truth speaks for himself. (This pastor says, this is that place where faith can allow mystery and truth to co-mingle as it stands with us and before us and around us always.)
In a few weeks we will follow Jesus to his trial where the government and religious authorities will render a verdict against him. They will horribly torture his body. He will be nailed down to a cross.
But just wait three days and we will again discover God’s infinite determination to be in fellowship with us. The temple shall be raised.” I hope you are getting as geeked and awed about that as I am. Let us pray.
God of Grace and God of Glory, you know full well how intimidating it can be to us humans - being created in your image, heir to your kingdom with our brother, the one who came to set our minds and hearts on you and to see you with all our earthly ability. You know full well how we think we have such huge responsibility, when Christ is your decisive entrance into our history, making our history yours. Forgive all of us when we are tempted to explain away all the details, rather than relishing all that comes together in your son who said, “I am.” Help all of us internalize that you never said, “I was.” That you have only ever said, “I am” and “I will be.” That you - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - are the heart of the matter and that you hold our hearts as dear. For all that you are and ever shall be, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.