Gospel: John 2:13-22
Prayer (from the Psalm)
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Perhaps it is mostly at Christmastime that we hear Jesus called the Prince of Peace. I remember my mother asking me once, but what about turning over the tables of the money-changers and dove-sellers? Today’s Gospel reading doesn’t portray a peaceful picture of Jesus.
This story is commonly known as the Cleansing the Temple. But, we all know that God's law demanded sacrifice, “for the Bible tells me so.”
By the way, there were rules associated with the offering of sacrifices. Rule 1) was that a sacrifice should be unblemished. After all, it is not cool to bring "factory seconds" to Yahweh.
Rule 2) was that the poor should not be excluded from the responsibility (or honour) of making a sacrificial offering. So the Law said that the poor could offer a dove, rather than a lamb. But still, it had to be unblemished.
And just in case you were a traveler, journeying all the way from your village to Jerusalem and for some reason your dove doesn’t make the grade – there were animals suitable for sacrifice available, on site, at a price.
Now Rule 3) involved money. There’s the commandment about graven images so money bearing Caesar's image was not acceptable for use in the Temple. So, money changers were there to exchange your bad money for good. How thoughtful of them.
Money-changers and Dove-sellers, these very people that the Prince of Peace took a whip to and drove out of the Temple were just providing an essential service. They merely enabled the poor, the traveler and the person with the wrong currency to make the appropriate sacrifice to God as, we are told by scripture, God desires.
Let me make an aside – In Mark’s Gospel (12:13-17) Jesus is asked – is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? He says, essentially, show me the money! Some numbskull reaches into his pocket, saying, oh I got one… here! And ask quickly as he does so the whole place goes quiet because this exchange takes place IN THE TEMPLE. Then the numbskull does his best Homer Simpson, "D'OH!" He shouldn’t have had that coin in his pocket. The true loyalties of those who try to trap Jesus is revealed, they are with Caesar, not God.
Back to the Money-changers and Dove-sellers. They are providing an essential service for the people, right? Everyone, even the poor can do what’s required by the Law and the Temple system can continue.
Never mind that the animals that were brought to the Temple were never good enough. Never mind that the prices were inflated. Never mind that the Temple priests got kick-backs from the Money-changers and Dove-sellers. Never mind any of it because we all know that this is what God wants, “for the Bible tells me so.”
It’s difficult to teach what the bible says on just about any subject. But particularly, scripture is not unanimous about the Temple.
Jesus will have nothing to do with the Temple. He drives out the money-changers and the dove-sellers. He is not "cleansing" the Temple, he's ending it: Not the bricks and mortar of the Temple, but the abuses that exist within or just outside the Temple. All four gospels agree, in connection with this story, that Jesus spoke of the Temple's destruction.
Jesus clearly favors the prophet Isaiah and that God doesn’t need a Temple, “Thus says the LORD: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; wheat is the house that you would build for me…” (Isaiah 66:1) In other words, the Temple is perishable…
God doesn’t want animal or grain sacrifices either: “Whoever slaughters an ox is like one who kills a human being; whoever sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck; whoever presents a grain offering, like one who offers swine's blood; whoever makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and in their abominations they take delight.” (Isaiah 66:3) Clearly, sacrifices of animals are not good or desired by God, according to Isaiah.
Isaiah is clear about the kind of worship God wants: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
For Jesus, it’s not that God had little interest in the Temple, but that God was opposed to the Temple. So, Jesus runs around the outer courtyard, yelling and waving a whip. Not his usual style.
All this makes me wonder; what are our Temples? What is there in our lives (and the life of this congregation) that have become like barriers to our relationship with God and God’s world? The answer might be this very building we’re worshipping in. We have, over the years, identified this building, our St. Paul’s Church-building, as an asset and a blessing to our community and to the city.
But who know? Maybe it is a Temple.
Jesus doesn’t go after the bricks and mortar of the Temple in the Gospel. It will be another 40 years before it is destroyed. For now, Jesus sets his attention on aspects of the system that act as a barrier between us and God.
Our Temples might be hymn books, prayer books, long sermons, baptismal practices, too many Eucharist’s, not enough Eucharist’s… I don’t know.
The question is: What do we say or do that is a barrier? What do we say or do that is abusive? What do we say or do that is exclusive? What do we say or do that prevents us from fully proclaiming the Gospel of God’s love and mercy for the world? Those are the things that we should chase out with a whip. The Prince of Peace would have us do this. The bible tells me so.
So, for now, let’s agree that Jesus wants us to rid ourselves of the Temples in our life – those things that are a part of us as the Christian community that prevent people from fully engaging the God of love. And let’s agree that Micah was right too, and that what God wants from us (and from the very start) is: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Amen.