By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 21, 2021
John 12:20–33 (ESV)
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
The past few weeks we have considered weighty topics. I use the word weighty meaning they are deep, have significancy, and their consideration should be listened too. There is a difference between loud and weighty. When a person is weighty in the Quakerly sense, it means that they exhibit deep spiritual clarity and wisdom. This weight can come from a lifetime of experience or it can be a gift granted by the spirit. But then there are people that are just loud. They have an opinion about everything, but it is unclear if that opinion is derived from listening to the spirit of God or from the wisdom on the kingdoms of mankind. I hope that we can be weighty people. People who know the will of the Father because we seek that relationship above everything else.
I bring up these ideas of weightiness because the past few weeks we have considered the anger of God, and the reevaluation of what it means to be born again. When discussing the anger of God, we watched in our mind’s eye as Jesus was furiously whipping merchants and bankers that were working within the temple courts. And when we spoke of this I asked if there were things within our lifestyle that would cause Jesus to become that angry with us.
We often hear that story from various political perspectives, but that is not what it is about. God is angered over injustice and the exploitation of others. Jesus was angry because the temple had used religion to exploit people for personal gain. They were in a sense selling salvation. And if you did not participate in their schemes you did not have access to God. In our actions, are excluding people from fellowship with God?
Then last week we discussed the ideas of being born again and that this is more than just making a verbal confession but it is turning to God. Every aspect of life can carry the venous properties of sin, and unless we turn toward God that venom can take hold and cause harm within our spiritual lives. This is something that we really should think about, because even good things can still cause spiritual death if it is not turned toward God.
Let us consider some benevolent service like a food pantry or rent assistance. How can these possibly be laced with the venom of sin? Are we really helping or are we enabling? Are we restoring dignity to the image of God they bear, or are we shaming them as being something less? In our assistance we should make every effort to helping those around us find their true need. This requires greater investment than a simple can of soup. This does not mean that we should not give out food when we are able, it simply means that we should not stop there. We need to get involved and encourage them toward a life of repentance. And every one of us has areas that we need to turn toward God, especially regarding the ministries of our Meeting. It is not about what we want but we are here at this place currently to bring glory to God and expand the influence of His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. We need to repent as a church, we need to turn and allow the Spirit of God to provide the antidote to the toxicity of our sinful natures.
These are weighty concepts. We do not like to hear these things. We like to think of ourselves as being good people. And we are good people, but even good people have the capacity to cause great harm.
In today’s passage we see that the message that Jesus brings, the gospel, is transcending ethnic and racial barriers. This shows us that the gospel is and always has been for all people. In last week’s passage we read that famous verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse does not name one nation, or ethnic group. It includes everyone, we are all part of the world. It also does not only regard humanity in general but all the world. God is concerned with every aspect of creation because all of creation was made and is loved by God.
Today’s passage begins with some Greeks wishing to come to Jesus, and these Greeks were participating in the feast. I find this interesting. The teachings and the traditions of the Hebrew people were even transcending ethnic barriers, this was one reason why Jesus was so upset at the market in the temple. The market was set up in what was known as the court of the Gentiles. It was the area where all the nations of the world could participate in the worship of the one true God. Yet they were putting up barriers for entry even to this place. When Jesus heard that these Greek individuals were wishing to speak with him, he accepted them. And he began to teach them.
Where do we begin discipleship? This is a question that theologians have discussed since the beginning of the church. Along with this question is when is someone really a Christian? For most Christian faith traditions this revolves around baptism. For those that baptize infants they begin discipleship from the very beginning of an individual’s life, for those that participate in “believers” baptism they participate in apologetics until the individual is convinced that they believe and are baptized and then they encourage discipleship after that. But what about Friends? We do not universally utilize the symbolism of baptism; how and where do we begin to teach?
If an individual is participating or even asking you a question they are like these Greek individuals in today’s passage. If we have any interaction with an individual it is at that moment we should begin teaching. And we are to use whatever is at hand to inspire understanding. Jesus began teaching in a manner that all could understand. It does not matter if you are from Hebrew or Gentile heritage, all people around the world understand food.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This of course has ancient Hebrew understanding, but Jesus is of course referring to himself, so even those that do not have religious training can understand that he is speaking of how he is going to gain his greatest honor. Then he goes on to say, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
I grew up on a farm where our primary crop is wheat. Today’s worship slides on PowerPoint feature my grandfather standing in a wheat field. My family knows wheat. What my grandfather is doing is testing the wheat to see if it is ready to harvest. Wheat has been a part of human civilization from the very beginning of civilization. When I took agricultural history class, they presented the idea that the domestication of wheat is the singular event that promoted civilization. When humans first learned to isolate and systematically grow fields of grain, they began to establish cultural centers. We can see this early in scripture, Cain worked fields and able was tended animals. Cain, according to scripture, established the first city.
Jesus speaks of wheat. The staple of human diet and the beginnings civilization. The layers of this teaching are eminence. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. Yes, Jesus is speaking of his death, but there is more. The teachings of the New Testament from the gospels through the various epistles all tell us to follow Christ, or to put on Christ. We are to take on his life and lifestyle so he is not only speaking of his own glorification but ours as well.
The requirements of bearing fruit are simple. We must die. This does not necessarily mean that we must physically die, but we must invest ourselves for something greater. We must take the risk. At harvest, a farmer goes out into their field and they reap their grain. This grain is the basis of their entire year’s life, it will provide for the most basic of their needs. But the farmer does not use all the grain, they keep some of that grain to invest in the next year. This is the discipline of farming. You sacrifice a portion of the immediate needs for the future. I say it is a discipline for farming but it is a discipline for all of life. This grain that could have fed your family is kept and sacrificed so that it can be planted with the hope of providing more grain in the future. If we do not make that sacrifice there is not a future.
I want us to let that sit in your mind for a bit. If you do not invest there is not a future. If YOU do not invest there is not a future.
The Greeks may not understand the theological concepts of God’s economy, but they are very aware of the economies of man. And that is why Jesus spoke in this manner. For there to be a future, we each must participate. We must invest our lives into the next generation so that a new crop can grow and a new harvest can be gathered. Those in business understand this in the realms of finance, those that are retired have participated in this as you prepared for your retirement. This is one of those aspects of life that we need to teach when we aid, because truth is always truth. Without short term sacrifice there cannot be long term success.
But Jesus is not speaking only about the economies of man. God also regards something as precious. This goes back to the conversation with Nicodemus, “For God so loves the world.” We are precious to God, not just those of us that have made verbal and visual commitments to Christ but every human being that has and will ever live. We all bear the image of God and because we bear that image, we are what God values in His economy. We are the wheat in his civilization, and we must make sacrifices to bear fruit.
When a farmer, like my grandfather, holds seed back from the harvest the intent is to plant the seed the next fall. Once that seed is in the ground it will sit there until conditions are right for it to germinate. It will then begin to grow for a while but it will go dormant through the entire winter. It must go dormant for a while because that dormancy prepares it for its next stage of life. Finally, when the time and conditions are right, the head will emerge from below the ground and the grain will begin to emerge.
It can take time for the seed to first show signs of life. When the plants begin to grow, the dormancy is also filled with stress. And when the plant begins to emerge from dormancy even more stress comes. The same is true in the sacrifices we make. We invest our lives into people. We encourage them, we provide aid in various forms. They might show signs of new life, but then they seem to go dormant. There is no further growth, and they seem to go stagnant. What do we do at that time?
We continue to encourage, and we continue to teach. That dormant period is vital. The wheat plant during the dormancy is still growing. It is during those winter months when the roots are going deep and seeking out the sources of nutrients and water. The dormancy is where those we are investing in are trying and experimenting with their faith. They are working through aspects of their lives that are deeper and more problematic than what we might see on the surface. It is that dormancy where the Spirit is working on the venom of sin within. Only after the roots of the spiritual life are developed can the seed, we invested begin to grow into the new life we hope to see.
It is that dormancy that is often neglected. Someone might seem interested and we invest, but they do not show enough growth so we back off. We do not continue to encourage, and eventually their roots wither and die. But are we continue to sacrifice our lives for those that God holds precious, when we continue to encourage and teach then when the time is right, they will begin to bear fruit?
It is not easy to live this kind of sacrificial life. My grandfather is one of the greatest men I know. It takes great faith to live the lifestyle that he lives. He is not famous. The only reason you see him today is because he is my grandfather, yet his sacrifices and sacrifices of those like him, have provided food for everyone in this building. Every year he invests. Every year he risks his life and the livelihood of his family, so that those in our civilization can live. Those are the requirements of bearing fruit. Those are the requirements of the church as well. Are we willing to make that sacrifice? Will we invest so others can live? If we do not die today there is no future.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 14, 2021
John 3:14–21 (ESV)
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Last week we discussed Jesus at the temple armed with a whip and his tongue. I encouraged us to think deeper about this. And I hope we did leave last week and considered how we might be angering Jesus with our lifestyles.
The history of Israel is filled with God angering stories. There are so many stories of God being angry that some scholars have questioned if the God presented in the New Testament is different than the God presented in the Old Testament. I say some scholars, but those scholars usually start from a position of not wanting to recognize the existence of God, so when they see all the stories of God being angry and then look at the stories of Christ, they see a difference. We could spend hours discussing this, but that defeats the purpose. The thing I want us to recognize is that God got angry. And in much of the Old Testament they did not discuss what happened when everything was going well. It is often filled with stories of human errors and how God worked through those errors to preserve Israel, even though it upset Him.
This example is seen clearly in today’s passage. Jesus has finished his display of ire and he has returned to the mode we are used to, the teacher and miracle worker. He continued this through the feast, enjoying the celebration and many listened to what he had to say. Even the religious leaders must have listened to some degree, we know that Jesus had attracted their attention. If someone came in and knocked over our pews and threw books in our Meetinghouse, they would attract our attention too. But as they listened to his teaching, they realized that he was not far from their understanding and that caused them to think a bit deeper about his actions and his teaching.
Jesus goes back to where he was staying. We are not told exactly where Jesus spent his time when he was on his ministry journeys. Maybe he had gone to Bethany to stay with Lazarus’s family, or maybe he just set up a tent and made camp somewhere in the wilderness. I always imagine Jesus in a tent. And when Nicodemus comes to visit, I always imagine that they are sitting on rocks around a campfire. This has little to do with what scripture says and everything to do with what I might like to be doing on a nice spring evening.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night and when he comes, he calls Jesus, rabbi. He acknowledges that Jesus has some authority to teach, and they can only assume that it is from God. Again, I want us to imagine the scene, a wondering pastor in a tent being visited by a theology professor from the most prominent Seminary you can think of, maybe Andover Theological Seminary, which is the oldest seminary in the United States, founded in 1807, which is now in the process of merging with Yale. Imagine a theology professor from that ancient institution, in a suit sitting on a rock by a fire out in the wilderness. And while sitting there on the rock, he is being talked to not as the distinguished professor but as an equal at best, if not a student of this man living in a tent.
They sit and talk and Nicodemus is confused. And Jesus looks at him and says, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Here a man that is a respected teacher among the Pharisees is being treated like an erring student. And Jesus explains himself.
Nicodemus was confused because Jesus started this conversation with the concept of being born again or born from above. This idea is something that Nicodemus just cannot grasp and to be honest we have become so accustomed to the words today in our Evangelical teachings that I do not know if we really understand the concept either. To Nicodemus and to most teachers of Israel, being born into Israel meant that you were a member of God’s chosen people. There is not any need to repent or change anything if you respect your people’s customs and live according to the law. This is how most of world things as well. We are good people generally.
Jesus takes Nicodemus back into the history of Israel. He says, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” This gets Nicodemus thinking. Israel is not perfect, and they never have been. God redeemed the people from Egyptian bondage, which is what the feast they had just celebrated is to remember, and they go to the boarder of the promised land. They send in spies to get and idea of what they are dealing with, and those spies come back with a report that the people are too big. Egypt was the world’s superpower at the time, and they had walked out of Egypt with Egypt’s wealth because God was with them, and they look at the people in the promised land and think they cannot overcome them because they are too big.
Imagine the annoyance that would have caused to God. He had just brought the greatest nation in the world at that time in history to their knees, and the people do not think He can do the same with a nation that is a fraction of the size and might of Egypt. What does God do, none of them get to go into the land. They then embark on a forty-year wilderness hike. They wonder in circles for decades, and what do they do while they wonder? Well, they complain. While they wonder God is providing them with food, he has preserved their clothing so it does not wear out, and they are walking for forty years, my shoes are wearing out in less than six months and theirs are lasting a lifetime.
They are wondering and eventually that generation begins to die. Aaron died and the people mourned for an entire month. Aaron was their first priest, and they were thinking if their priest cannot even get into the promised land why did they leave Egypt in the first place. They complain even more, “why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loath this worthless food.” God has listened to this for decades, while every day he gave them manna and doves.
God had been protecting them, feeding them, providing water, and ensuring that they were clothed and that they had shelter, yet that was not enough for them. What else could God do to prove to them that he would care for them? He left them alone for a bit.
Why do bad things happen to good people? The answer is right in scripture. We do not recognize the good but focus on the bad. The desert is filled with numerous deadly obstacles. The people did not realize how much God had been doing for them. He provided a cloud by day and fire by night, protecting them from the harsh temperatures of the desert day and cold temperatures at night. But there are also deadly venous creatures. God withdrew his hand of protection for a moment and venomous snake began to find their way into the camp. And people began to die from the bites.
The people became aware that they their complaining, their speaking out against God and Moses was the cause of this situation. And they plead to Moses to appeal to God for deliverance. God again had mercy on them. He commanded Moses to build a sculpture of the serpents and put it on a tall pole so when the people were bitten, they could look upon the sculpture and believe or trust that God would provide for them.
Every one of the people of Israel had been bitten by the snake and deserved death. It is only the grace of God that kept them alive. Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The people in the desert were not saved because they were Israelites, but they were saved because they turned to God. Each person in the wondering camp had to turn themselves to God. Without the turning they would have all been dead. The venom of the snake’s bite course through the veins of everyone because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save it. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, just as every Israelite in the desert.
Imagine you were Nicodemus, a prominent scholar among the Pharisees, and you had just heard these words. All the theological understanding available to us is nothing if we do not realize one simple thing. If we do not turn to Christ, we no matter how good we might be will die, because we have the venom of sin in our veins. God is not judging us; we have judged ourselves. We can mope around complaining about how unfair the world is, we can complain about how unjust the world is, we can get ourselves worked up into a pity frenzy but if we have not turned to God, nothing will ever change.
And how could it change? “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
What do we do when no one is looking? There is a saying going around over the past few years, “Dance like no one is looking.” The idea is that when you feel like no one is judging you, you are free to be yourself. There is a lot of truth to that, but then there is a flip side too. Why are we hiding in the first place? Why do we act differently when we think people are watching? Even when we are not doing anything wrong, how often do we sneak an extra piece of dessert and tell people to act like they did not see it? How often do we trip, get up, and look around to see who saw us? This is what Jesus is talking about. When we live our lives in the systems of the world, we live in fear and darkness. We are constantly looking over our shoulders and hiding. How can things change if even the “good” people of the world keep secrets?
No one is good. We live our lives in discontent, dishonesty, and lack of empathy. When the mask mandates were issued what was our first response? For many of us, including myself, we complained. Why? When someone drives a bit too slow in front of you, what do you say? When we smash our finger when we hammer a nail, is it safe for kids to be around you? These are little things, but they point to something bigger. We, even good Christians, are not good enough. That venom still courses through our veins.
We like to hide and we like our privacy. We do not like it when people poke their noses into our business. But why? We fear. We are afraid that someone will see who we really are and our reputation will be ruined. And we perpetuate that fear by how we respond to others.
How do we change? The truth.
Each of us is capable of great good and great evil at any given moment. We like to think that we would never be as bad as the Soviets or the Nazis but the reality is that we are all capable of it. And the only way to change is to recognize who we are and turn to God. When I say turn to God, I do not mean merely going to church. Church is essential or I would not be here, but the church is also filled with flawed human beings and we can become distracted. Aaron, the first priest, could not enter the promised land because of sin, what makes us think we are any better? We need to be honest.
We can be good and evil. We can justify our actions to make ourselves look good, but are we being honest? Look at your lives through the lens of Christ. How good are you?
When Nicodemus came to Jesus that night, Jesus told him that, unless one is born again, they cannot see the kingdom of God. That phrase born again, or born of above, is one we hear a great deal. But do we know what it means? When the people of the desert were bitten by the vipers they knew. If they did not turn their death was imminent. For us we are more like Nicodemus, we have our definition of what it means, but do we live it out in our lives. Do we have a new nature? Do we have a new purpose? Are we living a new lifestyle? Can we see in our world something God loves?
That is the kicker right there. Do we see in our world something God loves? Do you see something worth giving your life for? That is the reality of being born again. It is seeing things with new eyes, experiencing them from a new perspective. It is seeing the things around us not as dire but as loved. So loved that God the Father sent Jesus to redeem it with His life, death, and resurrection. I began by wanting us to consider what would make God angry. I think this should give us perspective. God is angry because we do not care for what he loves. Let us think about that as we enter this time of Centered worship.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 7, 2021
John 2:13–22 (ESV)
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore 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.
When you think of Jesus what do you see? Do you see a kind man sitting on a rock with kids playing at his feet? That is one image that was always hung up in Sunday School classrooms as I was growing up. Does our mind go to the image of the last supper painted by Da Vinci? This was a print that hung up above the countertop in my home church where all the potluck dishes were aligned for our feasting. Or is the dominate image of Christ you have in your mind the image that we have hanging here behind me? The image of Jesus praying in the Garden. I bring up these images because we all have a dominant way of imagining Jesus. For some the primary image is the baby in the manger. For others it is Christ on the cross. I am guessing that the image that comes to our minds while reading today’s passage is one that many of us rarely even imagine. How many of you have even taken the time to develop a mental image of this passage?
Of all the events that are recorded in the Gospel accounts there are only a few that are recorded in every gospel written. The events of Holy week are recorded in all gospels, although Mark does not record Jesus appearing after the resurrection, he simply says that the tomb is empty. The baptism is alluded to in every gospel, which is important because it was the initiation of Jesus into the ministry. The feeding of the five thousand is also in every account, but the walking on water is only in two. Of all the things that we think are important about Jesus, only a few stories make it into every gospel account. But of those events that every gospel writer finds as being the most important, this story, the story of Jesus cleansing the temple is probably the one we overlook the most.
We like the stories of Jesus healing people, we like the stories of Jesus feeding a multitude, we have developed holidays to celebrate Jesus’s birth and presentation at the temple, but even those events are not mentioned in every Gospel account. But this one, we do not have a holy day for.
We do not like to dwell on an angry Jesus. We do not like thinking about what caused Jesus’s anger. We shutter at the thought but why? This story is found in every gospel account but the most detailed report is found in John. I find this interesting because John is also the account that promotes the love and grace of Jesus to the greatest degree.
I want us to really reflect on this passage today. What caused Jesus to get angry enough to lash out?
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went to Jerusalem. We need to know this because it sets the scene for the whole story. The Passover was at hand. Ancient Israel had many holidays, and many of these are still celebrated today. But unlike our holidays, the celebrations in ancient Israel were not a mere day but often a weeklong festival. There were three of these celebrations that required a journey to Jerusalem, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. Passover is the day before the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins. It was the day that memorialized the preparation of the people for God’s redemption and liberation.
If we were to read through the account of Exodus, we would find that the night before the last plague of Egypt, God commanded the children of Israel to prepare for their departure. And part of that preparation was to put the blood of a lamb on their doorframes so that the Spirit of God as it would make its way through the land destroying the first born of all of Egypt, the spirit would Passover the houses of Israel. The Passover feast we often hear about today, is the preparation for the true event. It is the pep rally for liberation.
Passover is approaching and each day it nears more and more people are crowding into Jerusalem. They all need to be in the city by Passover so that they can be ready for the upcoming Festival week. The thing with the festivals is that everyone must be ready to celebrate. There are sacrifices that need to be made and foods need to be purchased. Basically, Jerusalem is beginning to look like Black Friday at Walmart.
John goes on to describe the scene further, “In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons and the moneychangers sitting there.” There is nothing remotely wrong with the selling of goods and the provision of services. These are necessary especially when there are people needing to make purchases. But the issue is seen in the first three words of verse fourteen, “In the Temple.”
The people were required to go to Jerusalem by dictate of the temple. They were required to travel to the temple for their own spiritual good. The religious leaders wanted the faithful to enter the celebration with a clean conscience. They wanted those that celebrated to have their hearts set on the right path so that they could be drawn closer to their God and deepen the collective faith of their communities. These celebrations were not only religious events but events that were to unite and build relationships among those traveling.
The celebration is not what caused the ire of Jesus to raise, but what was going on around them. In the Temple, the very place where these people were coming participate in the celebratory events, a market was set up.
Markets are a positive thing. We often hear people opposed to ideas of capitalism using this passage as a prooftext against free markets. I think this is just as wrong as capitalist totally disregarding the lessons that can be learned from this passage. Jesus is not opposed to the market, but where and why that market is there. It is in the temple. The religious leaders have turned a place of worship into a place of commerce. And as he looks at the market, he makes a whip of cords, and he drove them all out of the temple, along with the sheep and oxen. He overturns the tables scattering the money on the ground, and he pointedly accuses one of the merchants with his zeal for the house of God.
Why is Jesus so angry? The temple made the necessity of the gathering and the temple is using the event to exploit those that participate. And if you do not participate you are not part of the community. I want us to really think deeply about this. The religious leaders in control of the temple have called the people to worship. Millions of people make their way to the city, and it is difficult to travel with all the necessary products, not to mention very few people can go on vacation without forgetting at least one essential item. Usually, it’s a toothbrush or your swimsuit, but we always forget something, so we decide that we will just buy it when we get there. The temple leaders see this vast court of space where people are gathering and they think why not rent space to merchants that way we can “help” provide easier access to these necessities for the people.
It sounds like an excellent idea. What could possibly go wrong? This market most likely started with the best intentions in mind. Leaders just wanting to help provide a benefit to make the whole process easier and more meaningful. If they can buy a sacrificial animal here, they would not have to argue with venders outside and we could guarantee adequate quality. It sounds beautiful and I would probably have voted for it if it were on the ballot.
The problem is who is in control of the market. If you go to a movie theatre there are signs that say, “outside food is prohibited.” This sign is there to limit access to the market. The theatre would like every customer to purchase food from their concession stand so that they can increase their profits. This is a private business so who can blame them. I love movies and the arts, but what if there is a statute requiring that every person is required to go to that theatre a minimum of three times a year, and that you would be required to attend movies every day for a week with each visit.
Every year you would be required to enter the movie theatre twenty-one times and purchase a ticket for each family member at $20 each. Then you would be required to make purchases within the theatre. Just for my family that law would require me to spend $1260 just to attend the movie, and approximately an additional $1260 for concessions. That law would require me to spend $2520 a year for my family to be upstanding members of my community. Like I said I love the arts, I love going to movies. The problem becomes an issue when those that have control of the market then decide to limit it even more, or to exploit those within the market.
If there was a law requiring movie attendance, what would stop the theatre from raising the price of the ticket? They would raise the price of the ticket, and they would continue to raise the price until someone put a stop to it and made a different law. And then they would focus their attention to another required amenity until no one could enjoy the movies because it cost too much or the theatres would be completely centralized and limited that only one movie could be shown and only one concession would be offered to keep the costs down. The people had to go to the temple. And the market within the temple can only become corrupt because there are not other options. Jesus is upset because the people are being exploited in the name of God, for personal gain.
It is not the market that Jesus is upset about, it is that the market is exclusive. It is not the profit that Jesus is upset about, in several parables he speaks of increased profits as being extremely positive. He is upset because the system has moved from encouraging the community, into something less positive. He is upset because a celebration set up to honor and remember the glory of God has become a method of exploitation. Jesus is upset because those that proclaim the name of God have turned worship into a way to manipulate the masses for personal gain.
He looked at what was going on in the temple, and he made a whip out of a cord and he drove them out, but he does not stop there he then says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
I want us to really think about this in a sociological manner. The tabernacle was built to provide Israel a place to worship. They spared no expense on the craftsmanship of the tabernacle, so that it would honor the God that had done so much for them. Eventually the tabernacle was no longer glorious because the people were established in their nation what good is a tent when you are not moving? David decided that he wanted to build God a house. They built the temple. Then as the monarch demanded more from the people the temple became a symbol of division, instead of an icon directing worship.
The temple, there to honor God and unite the people, divided the north from the south, why? Is it because of God? No, people used the temple to control and divide, to force and to manipulate. This is not what God wants. When Jesus said to destroy the temple and in three days, I will raise it up, is more than just a prophecy about his resurrection. He is saying the things that we use to control and divide people; the systems and the organizations will not stop God. God does not dwell in the organization or the building, but God dwells in the hearts of humanity. And when humanity uses an organization that was started for good to cause harm to others or coerce them into do something, that organization ceases to be an instrument of God’s glory and it and all involved needs to repent.
In what ways are we causing anger in Christ? We can justify much in our own minds, but anger Christ because we take something positive and use it to cause some degree of harm. Have you ever complained about someone taking care of responsibilities because you wanted something? Have you used guilt to manipulate others? Have you thrown a fit to get your way? These are no different than the temple monopoly exploiting the masses.
In each case we are using an advantage over someone to manipulate things to our benefit at their expense. We are being dishonest and often we are being self-righteous in our dishonesty. And when we as followers of Christ use the methods of the world for dishonest gains, we dishonor the one we claim to follow.
Jesus’ anger is one of the stories that we should all spend some time reflecting on, because emotions are in our life for a reason. They are there to direct our attention to something, emotions of desire direct our attention to the amazing beauty of creation, while other emotions should cause us to examine our life. If we are angry, we need to know why because that anger is driving a wedge in our relationships that will eventually cause a split. We need to be angry at times, but we need to let our emotions prompt us to think deeper while we act. Jesus did not just drive people out of the temple he told them why. They had made money and idol, and what was going on in the temple courts was more important to them than what was going on at the altar.
As we join with each other in centered worship today, let us consider our actions and activities. Let us consider our words and our motives. Let us promote the truth and purity of the gospel and the lifestyle of Christ. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.