Okay. It’s happening already...after just five weeks. John is starting to grow on me. However, things have been rather ‘narrative’ so far, and that’s what I love. Soon, things are going to move to ‘discourse,’...and we’ll see how things go then. For now, let’s see what we can find here in John 2....
V.13 – Passover.
This provides us an opportunity to summarize the narrative we began with back in September. What is the Passover? When did this happen? Why did this happen? “In the beginning...” and then Adam and Eve sinned...and God called Abraham, whose grandson took the people to Egypt...and God called Moses...and part of making good on the Promise included God bringing His people back to the ‘promised land.’ So, whenever we have a chance to remind folks of the story, to repeat important parts of the narrative, we should do so. “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
V.14-17 – Jesus clears the Temple.
I’ve read through this passage this week in several translations (NIV, NVI, NASB, Message), and I’ve not found anywhere that says or even indicates that Jesus was angry. Even so, I’ve noticed several postings this week in the Narrative Lectionary Facebook group I’m a part referring to or about God or Jesus being or getting “angry.” Nowhere in this passage can I find where it says that Jesus is enraged about what is happening in the Temple. I often worked with parishioners in north Georgia on their cattle farm when I lived and served there. The cows had to be rounded up, and some went off in the wrong direction. One of the fellows redirected the cows with a cattle-prod. He wasn’t angry. He was simply correcting the direction of the animals. Could it be that Jesus wasn’t angry, furious, going nuts on these folks? There was certainly zeal...but John doesn’t really say what that looked like. If we focus on Jesus’ “righteous anger,” we may be forcing something that is not in this text.
We will see below that Jesus is very clear as to his own purpose and identity, so he is probably very clear as to the purpose of the temple...and the buying and selling of merchandise is NOT part of that purpose. Commerce in itself may not be bad, but there is no place in the Temple. So, Jesus makes a whip (scourge) to clear things out. I love this image. He doesn’t fly off the handle; he takes time to make a whip to get the animals out of the temple, to show folks that he means business (even if he’s not terribly angry. 😊 )
V.18-22 – The Jewish leaders demand a sign.
(It always bothers me when John writes, ‘the Jews demanded...’ as if all the Jewish people were doing this. “Over-generalization” simply wasn’t caught by John’s editor....) The sign to which they refer is a sign of authority. Basically, the question is, “By whose authority are you doing this?” Jesus finds the authority within himself...as we will see below. And the sign he offers? “Destroy this temple, and in three days I’ll raise it up” (v.19, NASB).
In this passage, the transition begins of understanding the temple as flesh and blood rather than stone. God no longer (if ever) lives in stone constructs. Now, the temple is finally and forever flesh and blood...as indicated by Paul in I Corinthians 6:19-20 and by Peter in I Peter 2:4-5. We’ve been trying to extract God from stone ever since...and we’re still working on it. Just ask your folks about “the church” and they’ll likely give you a physical address. They talk about going “to church.” It’s a place. Jesus begins what Paul and Peter expand on...the church is the body of Christ.
V. 23-25 – Jesus knows people.
He knows us—how we are, how we think. There’s a sense here that Jesus doesn’t really trust the people around him to know who he is. That “he did not need any testimony” indicates that Jesus DOES knows who he is. He understands who he is and doesn’t need anyone else to confirm or affirm what he is about. In fact, contextually, we have to think about who this Jesus is in terms of how John introduces him at the beginning of this Gospel—“the Word” who was “with God”... “was God.” This Jesus has a very clear self-understanding in John.
I believe that this whole passage has to be understood in light of this final bit—Jesus does what he does, says what he says, out of a crystal clear understanding of who he is and what he is here to do. The question is, are we crystal clear as to who Jesus is? Do we have a clear understanding of who he is and what he was/is about? Our clarity on this point helps the rest of theology fall into place.
So, what do we do?
What do we do with this passage? How do we bring it home? What does it have to say to us, to our congregations? Jesus is cleaning house...his own house. It’s Passover—he remembers part of where things started, the price paid. He sees the Temple...the disorder, the distraction, the mix of holy and profane. He decides he needs to act, so he sits...sits...and makes a whip. And, then he cleans house.
Every Sunday can be a “Passover” for us—a time to remember part of what it’s all about. When we walk in, hopefully we see the baptismal font and remember our baptism and our calling. When we see the Bible on the altar, we remember that we have a standard for living. When we see the candles, we remember that God’s Spirit has been poured out upon us to empower, guide, teach, correct. And we should take a look inside our own temples, our own body, and see what has crept in, what is clogging the passage-ways. What commerce or other activity is threatening to become more important than the worship of God, the interchange of prayer? And we must sit and make a scourge, a whip—not of leather and wood and scraps of metal but of prayer and determination and contrition...under-girded by the power and presence of God’s Spirit. And we must clean house. Clean house so that God reigns in this temple—our individual bodies and our congregational body.
Is it time to crack the whip in your life, your congregation’s life?
(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)