With all that’s going on in our world, how might Jesus react in today’s political and religious climate. What he might do if he walked into the U.S. Capital or sat in with the Supreme Court?
Would he take a position on gun control if he sat with students and parents who lost their loved ones in Parkland, Columbine, or Sandy Hook? Something tells me if he were here today, there would be a target on his back as big and bold as it was some 2,000 years ago.
Speaking for myself, Jesus is irresistibly attractive when he confronts the bad guys, or one-up’s the wise. I like being on his side of justice. But when Jesus shifts from being the Son of Mary and Joseph to speaking as the Son of God, I get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing I have more in common with those Jesus is reprimanding than with the righteous one himself.
We don’t have to look very far to see how our religious and political laws, or simple everyday life, clash wildly with what God wants from us all. Which is why we need Jesus to come inside and do a little house cleaning.
Uncomfortable as it is, John’s gospel reading is perfect for Lent. This is our time to take inventory and to toss away the stumbling blocks and trash bags we carry, so we can make more room in our lives for God’s love and peace. I believe this is exactly what Jesus is doing at the Temple.
In the midst of the religious and political chaos, Jesus enters the sacred space whose name literally means "The house of many nations.” His restoration project begins in the Court of the Gentiles, an area where the local merchants were allowed to set up shop; selling the sacrifices that God demanded.
This area of the Temple was a dedicated place for non-Jewish people to worship or pray to God. But the animals and sellers have made it impossible for people not only to get in but to also find peace. Think about how we get distracted by Daisy barking! Now add hundreds of mooing cows, bleating sheep and squawking birds!
Jesus sees the barrier that the religious leaders have allowed to be put in place. And naturally he doesn’t like it. So naturally he begins to tear them down. Imagine that, God not liking walls.
Years ago I worked in a record store. As CD’s where becoming popular, my boss, Joe, knew the store needed to be remodel and reconfigured to make room for this new format. Now, we worked with this guy Billy Ropple, who was a big, hulking kid. When Joe asked Billy to take down the back wall, this 6’2” chunk of punk rock muscle and rage happily went to work.
When demoing a wall, most people use crowbars, sledgehammers, drop cloths, and gloves. Not so with Billy. He just threw his body into the wall. With his physical strength alone, he smashed holes in the drywall and ripped out the wood studs like they were matchsticks.
With zero regard to the mess he was making...Billy’s pent up rage exploded like a wrecking ball of aggression. To an outsider, it probably looked like a violent rampage, but for us it was truly exciting to watch. By the end of the week the remodel was complete and we were ready to welcome and embrace the future.
Like Billy Roppel, Jesus’ aggressive action was not hostile or belligerent. It was assertive and energetic. Jesus’ action and reaction to what was going on was a restorative act of passion – the same passion he would use to restore and reclaim us as children of God.
To read Jesus’ actions as being an ungodly temper-tantrum we might miss the point of this story: God’s radical presence is among us; bringing about the changes needed for God’s Kingdom to be complete.
Jesus saw that the Temple needed to be reclaimed for its intended purpose. How can you be a house of many nations, if you refuse people from coming in to worship God?
As far as those in power were concerned, the Temple was fulfilling its function as a place to honor God. I don’t believe they were intentionally disobeying or opposing God. They were only doing what they thought God wanted. I can understand that.
But a closer inspection of the place would reveal that there were many inside the temple who had forgotten its true purpose. Instead of being a “House of Many Nations” the Temple had become tainted with exclusivity and economic exploitation.
Like any lopsided structure, the whole thing was bound to collapse. Jesus’ passionate display of God’s justice was just the tipping point. When they confronted and questioned his authority, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple. And I will build it again in three days.”
To most people it was laughable. But as John noted, it’s only as they look through the lens of his death and resurrection, do the disciples get what Jesus is saying. I wonder if he knew that this statement would be use to justify his crucifixion?
Even as we have the privilege of hindsight, we continue to put up walls to keep people out; some are even decorated with stain-glass.
No matter how hard we try, we all get caught up in the human spaces we construct. Bigotry, jealousy, envy, power, greed invade our physical and spiritual structures gradually and subtly. If we are not careful, if we lose our focus on what God is calling us to do and be, we might find our sacred space full of cattle, sheep, turtledoves and moneychangers.
Lent is a time for us all to look at our spiritual structures and do the necessary repairs and renovations. It’s a time to clean out what we don’t need so we can make room for what God is building in each one of us – a true spiritual Temple with Jesus as the cornerstone.
Lent is a time to look in all the nooks and crannies of your life, and ask God to help you to be more open and accepting of others; to be patient with yourself so you can be kind and gracious to those in need; to be forgiving knowing that you have already been forgiven; and to encourage others to love you by the way you love them.
As the Christ, Jesus replaced all earthly temples once and for all. Jesus has removed the barriers that divide us, and by his love he draws us all together. Through him, we become part of much more inclusive structure built with Divine intentions and specifications.
Yes, Jesus was human like us. But he was also divine. Through him we become a true house of many nations…where all people are welcomed to not only be like his humanity, but to also partake in his everlasting divinity.
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”