Last week we began our series on the Gospel of John.
John begins by telling us that Jesus is the logos, the divine word of God, present in the very act of creation itself.
The story continues with a series of signs. Last week the wedding at Cana. Water into wine. A sense of the celebration of this new creation that Jesus, the word made flesh, was bringing into being.
Today we hear the second sign. Jesus enters the Temple. And we find that this word of God, this Good News can be comforting and reassuring, but also deeply troubling.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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. 16 He told those who were selling the doves "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 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.
Anger is a strange thing isn’t it? I imagine that there are people here this morning that get angry pretty quickly, and on the other end of the scale there would be people here who would find it hard to remember the last time they got angry. We get behind a car doing 40 km an hour down North Road, the person who speeds up when we try to overtake. Phil Goff said a couple of weeks ago how angry he was - he used a different word - at the dumping of rubbish. We all feel good and angry about that. It may not be that hard to feel angry because someone has done something that’s annoyed us personally. Annoyed that someone has done something wrong. And for some of us this anger can get out of control and we need to get help with that.
But how often do we feel anger on behalf of another? Not for our benefit, but because another has being subject to some kind of unfairness or injustice? Our scriptures are much more interested in this prophetic anger. People who get motivated to act, sometimes in quite dramatic ways as they respond to the mistreatment or the inequalities they see around them. A report last week on the news tells us that the richest 1% own 30% of NZ wealth and that our country has one of the fastest growing inequality among OECD countries. Not many of us get angry about those details – and why not? Isaiah would, Jeremiah would. Hosea would. Jesus too.
We can hear a story like this today, Jesus, and the anger, and whip in the temple, and, as I have done many times, jumped to conclusions. Good Jesus, righteous anger, all these animals for sale - bad money changers. It’s easy to judge this passage. To place ourselves on Jesus’ side and admire his courage, and understand his anger. Pictures in our minds, maybe formed by Sunday school books or movies.
But the actual story, and Jesus exercising this prophet act is more difficult for us perhaps, than might be obvious. I want to give you an example of what is happening here. And don’t want to annoy everyone, but Jesus is actually a troubling presence in this story for everyone.
Last Saturday I was invited by some friends to look at houses. Open homes. Looking for a home which they might like to buy.
We visited a number of houses within I guess 5 to 10 km radius from down town Auckland.
There were other people attending the open homes. There was a sense more one of anxiety perhaps that joy or excitement.
What you get for what you pay - I found to be quite an alarming experience. The agents all dressed up in the 30 degree heat. The families and individuals looking. The people selling the houses, instructed to make things look just so. I actually know a young woman whose job it is to provide props for houses going on the market. She provides an extra pot plant here, a comfortable looking couch over there. Maybe a bit of art on the wall.
All these people playing their part. We know that for many Aucklanders with the new valuations they have done okay. Their worth has increased simply by virtue of owning a house. Except on Great barrier I have to say.
So we can identify with each player in this. A good agent is a huge asset. A person selling a house obviously wants the best price they can get. That’s fair enough isn’t it? And the buyer is wondering about this becoming their home. What kind of mortgage they can afford. The school zones. The commuting time.
All these things working together. And it’s not just the people we see, is it. There are the banks and their lending regulations. There are the economists and their commentaries.
And Jesus turns up angry. And says to every one there, ‘but there are homeless just 200 m from here on Dominion road. The Australian lending banks are showing record profits and paying their chief executives millions of dollars a year. The decile 10 schools nearby are all churning out kids who have no grasp of what most families are facing. Even to consider buying this house you forget, Jesus says, than you must be in the top one percent of global wealth. And despite the capital gains and good jobs that enable you to consider even buying a house like this, you don’t look especially happy or secure of satisfied. You just look anxious and bothered.
And Jesus says these things last Saturday afternoon, and no one walks away feeling that good at what he has said, and maybe it’s a relief that we realise that he is on his own , we can dismiss that, maybe a couple of his followers off somewhere to the side. In fact maybe we can do more than dismiss that. We get a strong sense in the Gospels that Jesus action led to a cascade event that would seem him arrested and finally executed.
No wonder. Jesus says something even more troubling. He says this whole thing, the mixture of things working together, the money, the house prices the banks, the regulations those who are left out, he says a huge upheaval is coming. This whole edifice that has been built over the years, this whole thing is going to crash down, and immediately afterwards I will embody myself, a new way of seeing things. A new way of being. 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.
This temple we hear about was by all historic accounts abuilding of profound beauty. It was still in the later stages of being built. It would still be being built for another 30 years after Jesus words. The finishing touches, and then just 6 years after completion it was utterly destroyed, with a huge loss of life, by the Romans.
I am not sure we have anything quite like the temple today. It was more than a cathedral. It was the embodiment of God’s presence and promise to the Hebrew people. The embodiment of history, faith and beliefs. And we remember too that the money changers and animals being provided for sacrifice were part of it. Pilgrims had to change their foreign money in order to pay for animals – it was prescribed in Jewish law for sacrifice. The sheep and cattle were sacrificed by the priests on behalf of wealthy who made their pilgrimage to the temple. And the doves were bought by poorer people. These animal sacrifices were made by Bible believing faithful people who wanted to honour the teachings in scripture in Deuteronomy.
So, even though as modern people we stand some distance from this, the money changing the animals these was part of the machinery of proper religious observation.
John Calvin described Jesus as prophet priest and king.
The priest and king bit, being brought into relations with God, sovereign, we can like those bits. But prophet.
If we had an ancient memory of other prophets we may not be too surprised today.
Through Isaiah God says what to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
We speak often about loving Jesus, but it can be very hard to like a prophet. We’ve been faithful all these years. Walked all the way from Alexandra, this pilgrimage of a life time to make our sacrifice to God at God’s temple. We’ve got our money to change so that we can buy a couple of doves, for the priest to sacrifice on our behalf. And then there is Jesus and this whip and money and tables and animals and this chaos. You and I loving this Jesus as prophet – what is that going to mean today?
The unblemished sheep and cattle the doves. The faithful pilgrims coming each year, and especially right now, we are told that Passover is coming, the most important celebration in the Jewish year. This is the time to be in Jerusalem.
And in the midst. Disruption to the order. The good news that Jesus brings.
It is hard not to look at times of change and upheaval, personally socially, as times that we upsetting or fearful or the source of worry or fear or loss. Disruption though can be part of the Good News.
The promise of the resurrection of Jesus that helps us understand or get through the times of disruption where God may even be working. A reassurance that what doesn’t make sense now may be understood later as we understand more about what faith in the risen Jesus really means for us. And the challenge today. To look critically at the things we have accepted for maybe too long and remember words spoken by one of ancient prophets. I desire steadfast love says the Lord in Hosea, for I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.
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