Passage: John 2:13-22
Date: March 19, 2006
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
Having trouble playing the audio? download the mp3
Today's reading appears in all four gospels, a somewhat rare occurrence. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this episode occurs in the last week of Jesus' ministry. Perhaps more than any other, it precipitates his arrest. Not so in John, where we encounter Jesus disrupting the Temple very early. In the previous story, Jesus and his mother had been present at a wedding in Cana. The host, the groom, began to run out of wine. Jesus' mother asked him to do something, because the groom's honor, and thus his family's honor, was threatened. It is not clear if Mary was somehow related to the groom's family. If so, then her own family honor was also threatened. In any event, Jesus miraculously produced a huge amount of high quality wine. And the symbol for the writer? In this Jesus, great abundance, amazing new life are available. It was the first sign Jesus did, that people might believe. Next comes today's lectionary reading. Listen. Listen to what else it tells about Jesus. John 2:13-22.
In the Greek, vs 14-17 are one long, complex sentence, as if to underscore the intensity of Jesus' acts and words. By the way, only John talks about cattle, sheep, and a whip. Cattle, sheep, and doves were required for burnt offerings, according to Leviticus. Pilgrims coming to Passover from all over the Mediterranean world would not bring animals with them. The Temple tax could only be paid in Tyrian coins, not Roman or Greek, which had the image of the emperor stamped on them. So, the animal sellers and coin changers were essential if worship were to take place. Jesus seems to launch a frontal assault on the whole system, with its huge economic, political, and religious dimensions. If we hear this episode somewhat passively, without being drawn to or repulsed by his passionate actions, we are not listening.
What is it with the peasant from Galilee that he thinks he can come into the Temple grounds, the holiest place in all of Judah, the visible seat of God's presence, and disrupt all that builds toward worship, and on one of the highest holy days besides?! His words and actions cut to the very heart of what it meant to worship God. Like someone marching into this proper Presbyterian place on Easter morning, interrupting the great choral music, tearing down the banners, turning over the baskets of colored eggs, dumping the flowered cross, and then yelling: "How dare you do this in the name of my father!" Who gives that outsider the right to speak for God, anyway? That's what the Judeans asked: "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Where is your authority? Jesus told them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." Of course, they misunderstood. Jesus meant the temple of his body, not that great central religious structure that had been under reconstruction for 40 years. But, to speak of the
"temple of his body," that was to claim himself as the new location of God's presence on earth.
Unlike other gospels, clearly John writes from our side of Easter. He puts post-Easter observations into his narrative. So here: After Easter, Jesus' disciples remembered what was written-"Zeal for your house will consume me." Yes, his zeal got him crucified. But that is only half of the verse from Ps. 69, and the tense is changed from past to future. The second half addressed to God: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." Jewish Christians would know from memory the second part of that verse, like we do if someone says, "The Lord is my shepherd..." Dick Rohrbaugh suggests a powerful implication for Jesus: He has taken upon himself the shame that has been directed against God. Since shame must always be avenged, Jesus takes upon himself the task of restoring the honor of God. (Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, p. 74) "The insults to you have fallen on me." Do you hear the position that Jesus claims-the one who restores God's honor! Jesus can challenge the Temple system because he is now the locus of God's presence in the world. (NIB, IX, p. 544) His life, death, and resurrection bear witness to the reality of God in him. This should come as no surprise to readers. John's gospel opens with the proclamation: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth."
The word became flesh, at the wedding in Cana. The extravagance of Jesus' wine-making suggests an extraordinary act of grace, and through him, a glimpse of the abundant character of God. The word became flesh in the Temple, a wildness in God's mercy, not domesticated, but challenging, disrupting, erupting, and through him, a glimpse of the passionate character of God. Both, at the beginning of John. Both, hints of who Jesus is, and of God's heart. Both point to the locus of God's presence in Jesus.
Hints of who Jesus is, this revealer of God. Recently, journalist Bill Moyers described it this way:
Jesus has been hijacked. The very Jesus who stood in his hometown and proclaimed ‘the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.' The very Jesus who told 5,000 hungry people that all people-not just those in the box seats-would be fed. The very Jesus who challenged the religious orthodoxy of the day by feeding the hungry on the Sabbath, who offered kindness to the prostitute and hospitality to the outcast, who raised the status of women, and who treated even the despised tax collector as a citizen of the kingdom.
The indignant Jesus who drove the moneychangers from the temple has been hijacked and turned from a friend of the dispossessed to a guardian of privilege, a militarist and hedonist, sent prowling the halls of Congress like a Gucci-shod lobbyist, seeking tax breaks and loopholes for the powerful, costly new weapons systems, and punitive public policies against people without power or status.
The struggle for a just world goes on. It is not a partisan affair. God is neither liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat... Poverty and justice are religious issues, and Jesus moves among the disinherited. (Context, 3/06, part a, p. 2) Jesus, hints of God's heart, the locus of God's presence.
Until last week, I had never heard of "Facebook" and "Facebook Friends." College students know this burgeoning computer program. In essence, it is a photo directory. Students can enter personal data: birthday, major, school year, school, favorite books or music or food or movies, one's relationship status, political views, favorite quotes and much more. On any particular campus, all students can view each other's profiles. Think about what this does for dating: the first conversation can actually have some information in it. If you want to catch up with someone at another school, you can look them up, and ask them to "friend" or "facebook" you. Once you are "friended," that is, "facebooked," their profile is open to you, yours to them, and messages easily travel back and forth.
Friends, in Jesus Christ, God has intentionally facebooked us. In the peasant from Nazareth as in no other, we see the profile of God. In the wine-provider and Temple-disrupter, we glimpse the passionate heart of God. At this communion table, we handle the Word made flesh, the Word broken and poured out, the Word risen from the dead. At this communion table, we encounter God's living profile, God's dynamic facebook. As we eat and drink, may we be drawn ever closer to this one of extravagant grace and fierce love. Amen.