“In The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen retells a tale from ancient India: Four royal brothers decided each to master a special ability. Time went by, and the brothers met to reveal what they had learned. "I have mastered a science," said the first, "by which I can take but a bone of some creature and create the flesh that goes with it." "I," said the second, "know how to grow that creature's skin and hair if there is flesh on its bones." The third said, "I am able to create its limbs if I have flesh, the skin, and the hair." "And I," concluded the fourth, "know how to give life to that creature if its form is complete." Thereupon the brothers went into the jungle to find a bone so they could demonstrate their specialties. As fate would have it, the bone they found was a lion's. One added flesh to the bone, the second grew hide and hair, the third completed it with matching limbs, and the fourth gave the lion life. Shaking its mane, the ferocious beast arose and jumped on his creators. He killed them all and vanished contentedly into the jungle. We too have the capacity to create what can devour us.”
Here we are in the middle of Lent and now Jesus’ message starts to get very uncomfortable. We are use to him railing into the religious leaders. Admit it, you all like that a little and so do I, as long as I’m not one of the ones he is railing against. But that is not what Jesus is doing in this story in John’s gospel. Today, Jesus is going to church and when he walks in he is crushed by what he sees. Anger builds up and in a scene that doesn’t feel too much like the Jesus we know from our children’s Bibles. He grabs some ropes and makes a whip and starts to chase people out of church. He yells at them, turns over tables, scatters money and kicks all the animals out.
We get uncomfortable because what happened to stain glass Jesus? What happened to the guy who smiles and is welcoming to everyone? Is it okay for Jesus to get angry? Jesus seems more like a bouncer at a night club now. This is a little threatening and I am sure the people are shocked about what is happening, including his disciples.
This is one of the stories of Jesus’ life that is in all four gospels. This is important because it is a story told four times. What is different is when it happens in John’s gospel. The Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, have this story happening after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. After Palm Sunday Jesus walks into the temple and sees what is happening and then sends them all out. This happens in the 21st chapter of Matthew, 11th chapter of Mark and the 19th chapter of Luke, but here we are only in chapter 2 of John. In John’s gospel we have received the poetic opening, John the Baptist’s testimony, the calling of the disciples and the wedding at Cana. It seems really early but John’s gospel does things a little different.
Each gospel in our Bible comes from a different perspective. Luke is written for those already in the faith living in the Gentile world. Mark is written for those involved in the Jewish Roman war. Matthew was written to bring Jews into the faith. John came from a different perspective. His is to prove that Jesus is God’s son. While the synoptic are not afraid to point out Jesus’ humanity, John leaves some of those stories out to prove without a doubt Jesus’ divinity. There is no baptism or temptation story in John. There is no prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Instead you have stories that are unique to John’s gospel like the washing of the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. This is where we get the “I Am” statements of Jesus, like when he says, “I am the good shepherd” or “I am the light unto the world.”
John’s purpose for his gospel is to reveal God’s purpose and God’s power. So why is this one of the first things Jesus does in his ministry and not one of the last like in the other gospels? The answer is simple. John is setting up God’s power over this world and demonstrating how much change is coming through Jesus. The second chapter starts off by Jesus turning water into wine. He takes jugs used in the purification ritual and turns that water into wine. The act of purification is changing because of Jesus’ ministry and purpose on earth. It is not the same as it use to be, it is now different because God’s son has come to earth. Worship and the purpose of the temple is changing as well. No longer will undefiled animals be needed to atone for sin. No longer will there even be a need for a temple because Jesus’ body is taking over that purpose. Jesus’ visit and tantrum happens early in John’s gospel because it creates a foundation of Jesus’ ministry that says radical changes are occurring because God’s Word made flesh will change everything.
Now we are not comfortable with change. In our human minds we would love it if everything would stay the same as it always was. But that is the only constant in life, change will always happen. I am sure that the Temple wasn’t always like what it was when Jesus walked in. There weren’t always money changers and merchants taking up space in the temple. I am sure it slowly happened and it made sense to why. To atone for one’s sins you needed special animals and special money. It is hard to raise and then travel with those types of animals so people used the space in the temple to fulfill a need for worship. They had purpose, understandable purpose, for being in there, yet Jesus found it detestable and kicked them out.
So here we are again, uncomfortable with Jesus’ attitude and uncomfortable with him kicking out what seems understandable. But the question that is poses in this story is does necessity equal pleasing to God? Is the things of our creation devouring us without us even knowing it? Are we destroying the temple or the Body of Christ in this place, this morning?
This passage hits us right in our gut because Jesus isn’t talking to the religious leaders. He isn’t talking about some ancient idea that we in modern day don’t worry about any more. No, he is walking into church, looking around, and throwing out what is despicable in his eyes. He threatens us, you and me, those in the pews and those behinds the pulpit to look with new eyes at the temple around us and ask ourselves if we have simply gotten comfortable with what is displeasing in God’s eyes. What do we let slip through our fingers because we have grown blind to see them for what they are?
If Jesus walked into worship what would he throw out? Would he come in and toss away all phones, Kindle Fires, and game systems in order for everyone to be fully present in worship? [pause] Would he come in with a claw hammer and remove all the plagues off the walls and pews because it builds up pride in our selves instead of honoring God? [pause] Would he step up to the pulpit and rip my manuscript into pieces ashamed that I do not trust the Holy Spirit to provide the words I say on Sunday? [pause] Would he be happy with our building itself or would he shake his head and remind us that the church is the Body of Christ, not bricks and mortar?
After Jesus tosses everyone out of the temple the people ask, “By what authority are you doing these things.” That is a funny question because no one asks the question we might ask if Jesus threw out what we hold dear. No one asks the question “why?” They know why. When Jesus walked in and saw what they were doing on some level it was confirmed that it was wrong. The merchants and money changers, although holding purpose, also held back the true nature of what the temple was there for. Then Jesus tells them of the temple’s destruction but that he will rebuild it in three days. The new temple, Jesus’ body, will be killed but he will remake it in three days. The new temple is not bricks and mortar but a body and blood.
In Lovette Weems’ new book, Focus he says that the United Methodist Church in 2009 owned $52 billion dollars of real estate in the United States. This included every church building and parsonage. $52 billion dollars worth of bricks and mortar! Is that what Jesus had in mind for us to do with his message or are we as guilty as those in the temple? Are we guilty of perverting the idea of church to suit our own sensibilities and our own egos?
The season of Lent is a time to repent, to admit where we fall short of God’s glory and to beg for God’s forgiveness. The joy is that forgiveness is graciously shared. The hardest part for us humans is to admit that we are in need of it. It is difficult to be honest with ourselves and see the world around us like Jesus does. We would look past the money changers and merchants because they were understandable. But today’s passage reminds us that we are to be careful with the understandable. St. Augustine said, “Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used or using anything that ought to be worshiped.” Idolatry is so prevalent in our society that we are blinded to it. We thank God that Jesus comes into our lives to show us where our true loyalties lie.
In a sermon by Rev. Dr. Peter Samuelson he said, “Jesus came to not just destroy the temples we build to serve ourselves but to raise up a new temple for us, a temple in which we can truly be reconciled to God. Every temple made with human hands, every system we attempt to construct, will end up only serving ourselves. In Jesus, God offers us a temple where we can receive the forgiveness of sin without cost, where we can be reconciled to God without trying to make a buck, where we can worship the one true God and be free from our bondage to greed and self-service. In our baptism, we enter this temple, becoming one with the body of Christ, living in the temple of God's love and forgiveness forever.”
How uncomfortable is that? It’s not. We desire in our heart to live in the temple of God’s love and forgiveness. But to get there is the uncomfortable part. It is the part when we are whipped by the reality that the light of Christ that shines in the areas of our lives, of our temples, which do nothing for the glory of God. It is hard to admit what we truly worship and what gets in our way of letting God’s temple take over our lives. We don’t have to ask why because deep down we know the answer. We uncomfortably have to admit it to ourselves and then let Jesus drive it out.
And all God’s people said…Amen.