When I was in seminary, one of the most referenced stories of Jesus was the cleansing of the Temple. In the Synoptic Gospels, this scene occurs as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time. In John, it occurs early in Jesus’ ministry, after the first miracle at the wedding in Cana. This event at the Temple is a prophetic action of who Jesus is to become.
This passage gives anyone who fights for reformation a tinge of excitement. “If you can’t reform ’em, whip ’em!” But that is a very different image of Jesus than what most people think of when they think of the meek and mild Savior. These people in the courts were not gambling on the altar nor were they harming anyone. They were performing services that were necessary for Temple life by offering sacrificial animals for those who had none and exchanging Roman money for the Temple tax’s required shekels. Their presence was not ideal; but, in the eyes of the everyday person, it was not egregious either. Jesus’ behavior would have seemed violent to many.
One of the common pitfalls of faith is seeing Jesus through simple interpretations that fit our own understandings. Was he a humble pacifist or a passionate reformer? The answer is, “Both.” What makes faithfulness to God so counter-cultural is that it evokes some unpopular behaviors. Sometimes God calls us to be humble servants in the face of injustice, spending our time and efforts helping the poor rather than directly fighting the power. At other times we hold to bold standards of faithfulness, even if those standards push against current culture.
Righteous God, help us to know how and when to act in your name. Give us righteous resolve to be your people, even when it is unpopular; and help us to know how to do so gracefully and with the care that people who love you would show. Amen.
As we continue in the season of Lent, we remember another important chapter in salvation history. Just as God established covenants with Noah and Abraham and their descendants, so did God renew the relationship with the Israelites by giving them the law. Obedience to the law was not the means of earning God’s love, but a response of love by the people to the love God had already shown them. The psalmist understands that God’s law creates a cause for rejoicing, for it is more valuable than gold. Both Paul and John address situations in which some had distorted the worship of God. Either they considered themselves too good for the gospel (1 Corinthians), or they had violated the covenant by altering proper worship for the sake of profit (John).
Read Exodus 20:1-17. How do you keep God as the central focus of your life? What draws you away from that focus?
Read Psalm 19. In what ways do you experience God’s laws as “sweeter . . . than honey”? When do you find yourself trying to resist God’s laws?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. What does it mean to you that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom”?
Read John 2:13-22. How do you respond to Jesus’ anger and actions in this reading? Do his actions fit with the way you generally picture Jesus?
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