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.
My sermon title is actually wrong. An Occupy movement, like Occupy Wall Street has some similarities to Jesus’ temple-action (the motivation of protesting a system that hurts a lot of people economically and benefits a tiny few) but one major difference: timing. I should have entitled this sermon, “Jesus and the Original Flash Mob.”
Have you seen videos or TV news reports about a group of people who suddenly show up in a public place to do something organized, to the surprise of everyone else there? Like a choir that comes to a shopping mall, all dressed in normal street clothes, not gathered together, but mingled in, among the shoppers out in the main square, who suddenly burst out into song, to the shock and delight of everyone. It’s called a “flash mob.”
That is how we should picture Jesus’ temple-action that day. If he had stayed too long, he may not have made it out alive. He certainly would have been arrested on the spot.
How it Happened
Probably it happened something like this. Picture a rather large outdoor space, surrounded by a high stone wall – perhaps you been to, or have seen
photos of the wailing wall area in Jerusalem – that would be like the outer court of the temple. It would be a busy place, full of pilgrims, people selling animals, people working at currency-exchange benches, lots of traffic.
Suddenly, Jesus sweeps in, presumably accompanied by some disciples who may or may not have know what he was planning. He picks up some sticks, braids them together, and starts running, swinging the switch, maybe yelling at the animals, scattering them in confusion; their shocked owners start chasing them and yelling after them and yelling at Jesus.
As he passes the benches of the currency exchangers he knocks them down, sending coins flying. They scramble for their cash, probably also yelling things not normally heard in the temple courtyard.
The Human Shield
The crowd is first shocked then starts reacting – how? Yelling? Are they supportive? Are they alarmed and angry? Maybe some of both. Jesus stops, maybe stands on a bench or an pigeon crate and starts to speak in a loud voice, so the crowd forms around him – his human shield – protecting him from the arriving priests and temple guards.
He is yelling:
“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (2:16)
It’s going to be hard to shut him down. A crowd has formed around him, and everybody recognizes that he is quoting from the prophets, reprising the message of several at once (as we learn from the other gospel accounts).
Jeremiah had asked, in a sharp rebuke:
“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” (Jer 7:11)
Zechariah had predicted,
“there shall no longer be traders in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” (Zech. 14:21)
Isaiah spoke of a future day on which, (says the Lord):
“my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isa 56:7)
So finally things calm down enough for the temple authorities to confront Jesus. They demand a sign that would demonstrate that Jesus is a bona fide prophet of God.
18 The[y] said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answers them instead, with a riddle.
19“Jesus answered them,“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
In retrospect, and only in retrospect, after the resurrection on Easter, they figured out what in the world Jesus meant by this.
What does all of this mean? Why would Jesus make a chaotic flash mob? What was he hoping to accomplish? And what does it mean for us today?
Jesus’ Symbolic Prophetic Act
Jesus did not go around naked and barefoot for three years, as Isaiah did, at the Lord’s command (Isa 20:1-6). He did not break jugs at the potter’s house, as Jeremiah did (Jer 19:1-15), nor did he lie on his side facing a besieged model city for 390 days as Ezekiel had done (Ezek 4:1-17), but, like the other prophets of Israel, he was capable of symbolic action. This temple-action was exactly that: symbolic action.
If you were an Israelite believer, you came to the temple because you wanted to repair and maintain your relationship with God. You came to make sacrifices. You had to buy animals for the sacrifice. But first you had to change your normal Roman coins which have a graven-image on them, for temple currency.
So buying and selling animals and currency-exchange were necessary and normal. Price gouging and price fixing were certainly part of what was happening, but not the main point.
By stopping the business of buying animals and changing money, Jesus was temporarily shutting down the whole temple. Just as our small piece of bread and small cup at Communion symbolize a whole feast, so Jesus’ action of temporarily, momentarily shutting down the temple was symbolic of a permanent shutdown.
Jesus was announcing God’s judgment. If the people persisted in their current path, then judgment would come, and the operation of the temple would cease. It wasn’t just price-gouging at the temple, their whole economic system was unjust and oppressive, and under judgment.
Also under judgment was their violent, head-long rush into armed conflict. Jesus’ symbolic prediction of the temple’s demise came true within a generation of that moment as an armed Jewish revolt against Rome ended with the Roman destruction of the temple (in 70 AD).
Jesus as [A] The Prophet
But the point was that Jesus understood himself not only as a prophet, but as the one who God would use to bring about the climax of Israel’s long story. God was finally becoming king.
Just as the people had returned once from Babylonian exile to rebuild the temple, so now again, the end of the exile of Roman occupation and the rebuilding of a proper “temple” was about to happen.
What is a temple, after all? It is the location of the dwelling of God among the people. It was the place of sacrifice where the relationship between God and his people was made possible. This, Jesus was symbolically announcing, was all coming true, in himself.
20 The[y] 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.
Jesus, the Temple-presence of God among us
To cut to the punch line: Christians believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. God is present where Jesus is present. Our relationship to God is made possible and maintained through Jesus. The sacrificing of animals is over; Jesus’ death and resurrection means that God has broken the power of evil, has vindicated Jesus, and now he is enthroned as King. The
Kingdom of God has begun.
For us this is powerful. Where is Jesus present? He is present at the table as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He is present when two or three are gathered in his name, in the church, the “body of Christ.” He is present by his Spirit in us, right now. He is present in the people we serve with compassion and mercy, the homeless, the poor, the excluded, the marginalized, the hurting.
The presence of Jesus is the presence of God among us. Jesus does for us exactly and everything that the temple had done. Our relationship with God is established and maintained through Jesus.
This means that God is with us here and now, and with us when we go home. He is with us on the golf course and at the kitchen table. He is with us when we shop and when we do our banking. He is with us when we are healthy and when health breaks down. He is with us as we draw our last breath in this life.
Could the people of Jesus‘ times see God at work in Jesus? Some could, others couldn’t. God’s presence is discerned through the eyes of faith: trust that our lives are not just the result of accidents and chance, but that God is present and working.
We are helped to understand how God is working in our lives as we hear a witness to how God has worked in other lives. Today we will hear such a witness from Delphine.