Saturday, 10 March 2012

Temple Tantrum? John 2:13-22

John 2:13-22 Jesus cleanses the temple
New International Version (NIV)

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.


  1. John 2:17 Psalm 69:9

            I have a friend from seminary who referred to the event we read today in our Gospel reading as "Jesus' temple tantrum"- not a 'temper' tantrum, but a 'temple' tantrum. It is a witty play on words, but I think it points to ways that this passage is misunderstood and misused. A tantrum is defined as "an outburst of bad temper..." (Canadian Oxford Dictionary), it is "an emotional outburst, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, yelling, shrieking, defiance, [and] angry ranting..." (Wikipedia). Is that what happened with Jesus in the temple? Was that the equivalent of a child being dragged by the arm screaming through Toys 'R Us?

            I know my friend was exaggerating. He didn't mean to make Jesus' actions equivalent to a screaming inconsolable child. He did, however, mean that Jesus lost his temper. And that, I do not believe. When we are speaking about Jesus in the temple, I do not believe that Jesus lost his temper.

            Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." St. Paul also reflects this teaching, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." ( Eph 4:31; Col 3:8). St. James also warns against anger saying, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20).  

            Jesus and his followers have strong teachings when it comes to anger. I very much doubt that Jesus would give such a strong teaching and then simply lose his temper in the temple courts.

            I have seen this passage of scripture used to justify people's anger, judgement, and  even war. No matter how violent we make Jesus' actions seem in the temple, they cannot be equated with modern day war. Jesus did not kill anyone in this action.

            We should also be very careful about equating ourselves with Jesus. We don't have the right to do something just because Jesus did it. In our reading Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers and drives them out along with the animals with a whip he made. If we agree that Jesus is angry here (which I'm not sure of) at this point we might think we are then justified to inflict our anger on others. If it's true that Jesus was angry here then we feel justified in inflicting our anger on others if we have good reasons (Our anger always seems to justify itself).  We'll call it "righteous indignation". We can pick up our whip when we see some injustice and angrily whip the offenders out of the temple. ... But, I'm not so sure. Jesus also says that if they destroy the temple he will rebuild it in three days. Anyone here feel they can say that? Why do we feel free to ascribe ourselves the right to anger and judgement, but not rebuilding the temple of our bodies in three days? Could it be that the expression of anger, judgment, and rebuilding the temple all belong to Jesus and not to us?

            We are not Jesus, even though we are to imitate him in some ways. In many ways Jesus is absolutely unique and sometimes our only response is to fall at his feet in worship, not attempt to reproduce what he has done.

            There isn't even any mention of anger in our passage, which is why I have doubts about Jesus' anger in the temple courts. For sure Jesus is forceful in his language and his actions, but anger isn't mentioned. The only hint we might have of Jesus' anger is that the Disciples think of a Psalm in reference to the event, "zeal for your house will consume me" (Ps 69). But even "zeal" doesn't necessarily have to mean 'anger'. It is a passionate word, but not necessarily angry.  Even when we read about this event in the other gospels they don't mention Jesus being angry. We read that into the text because we can't imagine ourselves doing anything like that unless we lose our temper. We read our anger into the Gospel. Though, there isn't consensus in the scholarly world on this.  

            So what were Jesus' actions in the temple all about if not a temper tantrum? One of Jesus' roles was as prophet. Prophets were known for sometimes making dramatic actions. For example, the prophet Jeremiah was told by God to publicly break a clay jar (19:10) as a symbol of the coming destruction of the nation. In chapter 28 Jeremiah put on a yoke to symbolize that the people would be led into bondage.   Later in 43:8, while in Egypt Jeremiah is instructed to bury stones in the pavement to show the coming of a foreign king (Nebuchadnezzar). Ezekiel (ch 5) was instructed to shave his head and beard and divide it into thirds each of which represented what would happen to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus' action in the temple in our reading today fits into this prophetic lineage of symbolic action.

            It was near the time of Passover, which was a very busy time at the temple. There would have been pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over. In the temple courts people were selling animals for the Temple sacrifices. People wouldn't bring an animal with them on pilgrimage, so they would buy one when they got to Jerusalem instead. Also, Roman coins had images on them, which were forbidden in the temple. So, there would be money changers who could exchange Roman money for coins that could be used in the temple courts. It was all justifiable. It was a big machine, and potentially, it could be very profitable.

            There are a few things that could have sparked Jesus' actions. It might have been about some corruption in the temple. The temple market may have been full of people trying to take advantage of the pilgrims who were flooding into the city and needed to buy an animal and exchange money. The temptation to inflate prices would have been strong.

            Also, certain people were allowed in certain areas of the temple. The outer court was the only place where the nations (Gentiles, or non-Jews) were allowed.  If Israel was to be the light of the world that drew the nations of the world to worship the one true God, it would be appalling to Jesus to find that the nations are forced to pray in a busy market (Isa 56:6-8). It would not feel like a house of prayer for those limited to the outer court. Using the prayer place of the Gentiles as a market may have been part of what sparked Jesus' actions. Taking financial advantage of pilgrims may have been another reason. Some corruption in the temple religion might have been what sparked Jesus' actions.     

            The more likely reason, however, is reflected in the words of the theologian Bishop Leslie Newbigin, "The action of Jesus is more than an example of prophetic protest against corrupt religion. It is a sign of the end of religion." (The Light Has Come, 33). Jesus' actions signal a new reality where the temple has become obsolete. In John's biography of Jesus the clearing of the temple happens right after Jesus' first sign, which is turning water into wine at the wedding in Canna. In that sign Jesus uses the water jars for ritual cleansing to make an abundance of wine. The wine was symbolic of the wedding feast of God and God's people being united, finally. The ritual hand washing points to the pollution of the world and our need to control it. The old way was about keeping the pollution out, but the new way is about a new age of celebration because the barriers between God and God's people have been removed. The symbol of the polluted world is overtaken by the symbol of wine that points to a completion- the presence of God and the beginning of a new age- a reconciliation between God and God's people.

            Jesus' actions at the temple has a similar effect in signalling a new age. Jesus very deliberately makes a whip and drives the people and animals out of the temple area. He scatters the coins and overturns the tables of the moneychangers. Jesus commands the people to leave saying, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" The overall effect was that all sacrifice stopped. The endless sacrifices the people made to atone for their sin stopped. Symbolically, Jesus stopped the sacrifices of the temple. He symbolically destroyed the temple.

            Zechariah 14:21 says, "there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day". Zechariah is referring to the coming new age, when God if fully present with His people. And here Jesus is driving out the traders as Zechariah said would happen on that day. Jesus is declaring that this new age has begun. The presence of God will no longer be based on geography, but on the person of Jesus.    

            The people then asked for a miraculous sign that would prove he has the authority to do what he just did and Jesus replies, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Jesus has just equated the temple with his own body. The temple was the place where heaven overlapped with earth. Now Jesus has symbolically destroyed the Temple. Now Jesus' person is the place where heaven overlaps with earth. It is through Jesus that the presence of God is now sought.

            Through this prophetic symbolic action Jesus points to the end of the sacrificial system in the heart of Judaism through the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed by the Romans 40 years later in 70 AD). Jesus replaces the temple as the place where the presence of God is sought. Relationship with Jesus, the lamb of God, replaces the need for sacrifices. Jesus' self-offering on the cross becomes the only sacrifice that brings us into right relationship with God. As Christians the temple is now irrelevant- obsolete. The temple expired with the presence of Jesus in the world.

            We should be careful not to place boundaries where Jesus removed them. Do you have a Sacrifice? Do you have the temple tax in the right non-Roman coin? Are you a Gentile or a Jew? Male or Female? Adult or child? Are you disabled or blind? Your answers to these questions changed where and how you worshipped in the temple, or if you were allowed in the temple at all. Now, because of Jesus, your answers to those questions don't change how you worship at all. That whole religious system was ended by Jesus. Because of Jesus all we need to do to approach God is to pray. There is no need for a temple anymore. Jesus' action were for our sake. He freed us from that system of sacrifice. His act of judgment and destruction in the temple was an act of grace. It was the destruction of something to allow for something better to take its place. Now, in Jesus' new order, all are welcome to approach God in Spirit and in Truth.              

1 comment:

  1. great post!


Follow @RevChrisRoth