Lent 3

Exodus 20:1-17, I Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

JESUS AND THE TEMPLE MONEY LENDERS

Do you enjoy a good detective story, or perhaps a puzzle in logic? Both of these are about making connections between things which don’t at first sight appear to be connected at all. Like today’s three readings – the Ten Commandments, the Foolishness of God, and a bit of trouble in the Temple with the Money-Changers….

This book in my hand, ‘The Foolishness of God’, was written by my Oxford University lecturer on the Prophets – John Baker – a tall, lanky warm-hearted man full of passion & excitement for doing theology, exploring our faith, and the rewards of doing all this. It’s all a bit like serious but fascinating detective work!

So where to begin this morning? Well, let’s examine the CLUES….

First clue: why so markedly in John’s gospel does Jesus’ ministry show a rhythm of going down to the Lake of Galilee and up to Jerusalem? – three times in the first half of this gospel. From the rural to the urban – familiar I guess to some of us. But John wants us to make the connection between two levels – the very deep HUMANITY of Jesus – born of water, as we all are, baptised in water – and the highly radical nature of his DIVINE authority.

Here now, straight after the Galilee wedding feast, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for Passover and angrily drives out the money-changers & traders – much earlier in John than the other Gospels, where this happens almost as part of the Passion/Crucifixion narrative – one of the ‘last straw’ disturbances convincing the authorities this man had to go.

Second clue: why does John place this event here? Because, along with the wedding story, he is telling us that Jesus in bringing about something RADICALLY NEW – a new Covenant order of things to replace the growing chaos of the tired OLD one – new wine, and a new way of seeing and doing things! And this, as we shall see, connects us with the TEN COMMANDMENTS – especially the first two,.

So – Third clue: why is driving out the cash and trade dealers from the TEMPLE such a significant act? Well first, look at the Temple – what sort of building is it? You have to imagine this church (or H.A. or H.T.) combined with Settle Town Hall. Or, better still, WESTMINSTER ABBEY AND THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT as one building. The Temple is both A PLACE FOR THE WORSHIP OF GOD AND THE CENTRE OF JEWISH AUTHORITY AND GOVERNMENT. Then imagine a country Yorkshireman with a strong dialect pushing into this hallowed place, and ‘losing it’ in furious anger as he violently drives out those money-dealers and traders – who after all are just going about their day’s work, making a living from all the pilgrims and tourists visiting the temple!

But – Fourth clue: are they just being honest breadwinners? After all, charging people money for events, charging for entry even, selling books and refreshments, all this goes on in our churches – and has done down the centuries! Charging tourists to enter a cathedral, journalists earning their money in the Commons reporting on Parliament – these are facts of life! So yet again, just who does this troublemaker Jesus think he is, stirring things up and creating CHAOS at the very heart of this symbolic place – from where the Jewish leaders are struggling so hard to maintain ORDER in face of the chaotic, blasphemous upheaval of Roman rule! And just think what reprisals this upstart act could bring on them all!

The clue, though, to why Jesus reacts so angrily here is in his words “You have turned God my Father’s house…into a DEN OF THIEVES”! These money-dealers and traders are actually profiteering, almost certainly overcharging people and making a tidy sum at their expense!

Now a Fifth clue: that sort of behaviour is SO AT ODDS WITH THE TEMPLE’S TRUE PURPOSE – THE WORSHIP OF GOD, NOT OF MAMMON OR MONEY – and NOT TAKING GOD’S NAME IN VAIN byDOING THINGS TOTALLY AGAINST HIS PURPOSE. The first two of the Ten Commandments – a vital connection!

And so we come to the final connection – with the I Corinthians 1 passage and the FOOLISHNESS OF GOD. Given the place he was in, not to speak of the danger to him and his disciples, surely Jesus’ behaviour comes across as very foolish indeed – especially for one  claiming to speak and act with the authority of GOD!

We clearly need a Sixth and final clue: John wants us to see this new order of things, the authority which God lives out in Jesus, in a totally new light. Because, you see, righteous anger at injustice and exploitation is the good flip-side of the coin of DIVINE LOVE. God is LOVE – TOTAL, THROUGH-AND-THROUGH LOVE.  But this Love CAN ONLY COME AMONG US IN THE WORLD IN A FORM WHICH ALLOWS IT FULL PLAY – i.e. IN HUMAN FORM. Such folly to most people, surely, that the Creator of the universe – an ordered  universe – should stoop so low, and take such a risk, as to get for ever involved on our messy earth in the frailty of a mortal human being – all the way through to degrading and cruel torture and death! Oh the foolishness of God!

But the point John wants us to see here is that the worship of God, “in spirit and in truth” (compare John 4:21-24) in this new order of things, takes place in and through the BODY – that is, the true worth of our worship will be shown in how we behave, speak and act as disciples of God-in-Christ – the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ’s frail human body is indeed the ‘temple of the Spirit’ – as too are ours.

THIS IS THE WAY OF GOD – SO CONTRARY TO THE ‘NORMAL’ WAY OF OUR WORLD, WHICH TIME AND AGAIN CLAIMS TO BE OH SO WISE! AND IF THIS IS FOOLISHNESS, SO BE IT. For precisely herein dwells the Glory of God! To whom indeed be glory, now and for ever.

AMEN.

Rev Paul Fisher

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