John 2:13–22 (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
(Mt 21:12–17; Mk 11:15–19; Lk 19:45–48)
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.
We live in an era where the majority of the population is angry. Every day there is someone on the radio or on TV that is yelling about something. The worst part about it is they usually do not know exactly what they are upset about or even what the situation is, yet they are all up in arms about it. The truth of the matter is that there is a lot to be angry about, but for the most part we get upset about things that we should not be upset about. The number one cause of anger in our culture today is that we do not get our way. A meal is not prepared exactly how it was wanted an individual logs onto the computer and give a bad review and demand compensation. Maybe someone down the street has a yard that is ugly so you call the city to demand a citation be given to force them to clean up. Or the one I really enjoy a store does not allow a return an item so to get back at the corporation one decides to take matters into their own hands and wrongfully convert merchandise to their own use. In any given day someone has angered you or you have made someone angry. We live in a culture so consumed by anger that we offer classes on how to better manage the anger.
Then we read passages like this in scripture. Jesus got angry, Jesus even got a bit physical, he does not quite fit the assumption of the easy going, gracious loving guy we want him to be. Which causes us to step back and ask is it ok to be angry. Of course it is, anger is an emotion and God gave us our emotions for a reason. The real question is if our anger is justified?
Jesus got angry. This is just another powerful example of the humanity of God that give our faith so much power. Jesus was and is fully human while remaining fully God, he experienced the emotional wave that each of us experience yet he acted on those emotions without sin. Our emotions are not sinful, but a natural response to our interpretation of what is going on around us. Emotions cannot be sinful. What is causing the emotions and what we do in response to the emotions are more important. This is the difference between the anger that Jesus experienced and the anger that ninety percent of the general population experience. Please do not try to look up that statistic because it is just a random number that I pull out of thin air and I would hate for someone to get angry over an inaccurate statistic made in a sermon. But I pull that number out of the air because most of our responses to the emotions of anger are not sinless, in fact most of our anger is sinful. Because sin is an activity that can detract from our relationship with God, or detract us from relationships with those God loves. Most if not all of our anger leads to sin, because the anger that we often experience causes us to drive wedges between others which lead to schisms that we do not intend to ever reconcile.
For us the greatest problem is that we misuse our emotions. We do not have the knowledge to channel our emotions in healthy ways, to use the power of our emotions to make proper decisions. Often our emotions scare us so we do not examine what or where the roots of the emotions are coming from. We are afraid to examine our emotions because if we were to actually dig into our emotions we might find something more frightening, something like we are not actually the person we would like others to believe we are. So we react out of ignorance and in the process we cause more harm than good. This is why I say ninety percent of our responses to anger are sinful. Consider the last time you were angry. As you consider that emotion response consider what was triggering that response, and why was that the trigger? If I were to guess where that examination led I could venture to say that most of us had an emotional response that we self-centered in some way. There will also be a few responses that are different, and those responses are important as well because once we can begin to see the root of the emotion then we are able to work with it.
Jesus got angry…in fact Jesus got really angry. Jesus was filled with what most of us would call a righteous anger. The root of his anger was not out of self-centeredness but rooted somewhere else. He was upset because they were making his Father’s house a marketplace! John actually is pretty calm every other gospel writer recounts as a den of robbers, which should cause us to wonder. If you were to examine the gospels more thoroughly you would find that John and the other gospels take different approaches to relay a similar story. John is the most spiritual of the Gospels, John spends most of his time relaying the divinity of Jesus, while the other three Gospels tend to focus more on the humanity. That does not mean that John does not support or show the humanity of Christ or the others do not express Jesus as being God incarnate it simply means that each Gospel writer was inspired to write from a different perspective. But these perspectives are rich. Each Gospel records this incident, but each points out just a bit of a different aspect of why Jesus was angry. In the three gospels that use “a den of robbers.” Jesus is angry with the exploitation of humanity, John’s Gospel gives us a perspective of the exploitation of God.
Let us begin with the exploitation of Humanity, or the den of robbers. There was only one place that people could offer sacrifices to the Hebrew God, that one place was in the temple at Jerusalem. People would come from all over the known world travel to this temple to worship and bring offerings to God. This offered this one city a huge monopoly on religion. There was only one place to worship. Sure there was Samaria and the mountain of Gerizim that provided an alternative to the temple but it was not pure in the eyes of the religious elites. So people from the north and the south, the east and the west were all traveling to this one city to offer sacrifices. I do not know if you have ever gone on vacation or a sporting event but usually once you get to the destination the prices all begin to go up dramatically, and there are usually laws or rules that ban bringing items from outside. This is pretty much what is going on at the temple. They are a destination site, once you are inside there are rules that one must abide by. If you are going to offer a sacrifice, well that sacrificial animal would have to be without blemish. Meaning it had to be a perfect animal. From growing up on a farm and raising livestock I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to raise and transport an animal without blemish. It may leave the stockyard perfect, but the travel will cause damage to the coat, the animal is stressed so it loses weight and is more susceptible to disease. So you may have left with a perfect animal and you arrive with a near perfect animal but it is wore out. But that is ok, because you can purchase a replacement right at the temple. And like popcorn at home verse popcorn at a movie theater the price is just a bit different.
Wait there is more. The currency used within the temple gates is not the same currency that you traveled with so before you can purchase the perfect animal from the temple you would have to convert your currency. The currency exchange even today can be big business. And destination spots often take advantage of the exchange rates. When I spent two months in Ukraine I converted currency quite often. The exchange rate did not vary too far from one dollar equaling five hryvnia. But while I was in Ukraine we took a weekend trip to Yalta in the Crimea. There is a reason Russia wanted the Crimea and it is because it is a beautiful place, and Yalta was one of the best places to visit. So much so that there were vacation palaces there from the aristocracy all around this region. I actually visited three palaces and even ate a meal in one. Because Yalta was a destination place and there were several tourists from all over the world the exchange rates were vastly different from other places. In Yalta one dollar was worth three hryvnia, which is still decent until you consider that at the time one dollar was equal to 2.50 German marks and the economy of Ukraine and Germany were not even close. What I am getting at is that because of the destination and the greater need to exchange currency at a tourist rich place the money changers could get away with shorting me $0.13, and I let them. The difference between my experience and that of the temple is that there were not alternatives. I could still use US Dollars anywhere in Ukraine, in fact they preferred it. In the temple they only accepted temple currency so the people were at the mercy of the money changers.
Some would say that they were just using good business practices but that is not exactly the case. There were no real alternatives. One place to make sacrifices, one place to buy the sacrifices, one currency that could be used, which means those that are selling can charge you whatever they could get by with, which also meant that if you went to the temple chances are you spent all you had. This is exploitation, taking advantage of a situation. Just because someone can do something does not mean that it is right.
John takes a different approach to this incident than the other writers, he does not call it a den of robbers but a marketplace. There is a slight difference, because in one aspect the people’s finances are being taken advantage of in the other it is their spirituality. The temple in is selling redemption. Which cheapens God, and puts a price or a financial value to sin. If you can afford it can get away with anything. This breed corruption. This pay as you go spirituality is very damaging. You can buy God. You can buy God’s favor. You can pay to have your sins overlooked.
Jesus is angry because of exploitation. People are being taken advantage of, and people are getting an inaccurate and cheap image of God. Where is discipline in this picture? Where is love? There is no love in a culture of exploitation because everything about it is self-centered. Today is no different than two thousand years ago. There are 27 million people who live in some form of slavery some even say the number is over 35 million. The Global Slavery index states that there are approximately 60,000 individuals living in slavery in the United States today. Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry with the average value for each individual is $90. Ninety dollars for a human life. Jesus is angry because of exploitation. That is not all of it though, because this is happening right under our noses and what are we doing? We as a church are engaging in cultural wars, fighting amongst ourselves over political issues, chasing a dwindling number of church attenders. And we have failed to really take up the cross to follow Jesus. We have cheapened God, cheapened humanity. I think Jesus is beyond angry and instead Jesus weeps.
Is this a problem? Should we be concerned? Yes! Exploitation is all around us and it dehumanizes us all. Jesus told the religious leaders destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it. Jesus was not only saying kill me and I will raise in three days but he was challenging the very world view of the masses. Their temple and world was built on the exploitation, Jesus stood for something different. Jesus loved all, he served all, and he even bent down and washed the feet of the very man who would lead him to his death. Yet Jesus changed the very course of the world. The followers of Christ loved the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed. They gave dignity to the slaves and respect to all, and they grew in number because the world tried to destroy Jesus yet one cannot bury God for long.
We live in a world that exploits, that is angry, that is driven by selfish ambition. Jesus calls us to a different life and a different world one that is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. It is a lifestyle contrary to everything the world teaches and is foolish in the eyes of most but it is one that is worth the risk.