Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
The gospel this morning is shocking. When I read this text I feel like asking, “Who is this man?” Is this the Jesus I know? Is this the same Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God?” Where is the peacemaking in this text?
In the majority of stories we have about Jesus we see him acting with compassion. He is healing the sick, reaching out to the suffering, and offering redemption for the most calloused sinner. We don’t see that Jesus here. Instead of the peaceful teacher, we see the Jesus who is angry.
Jesus makes a whip out of cords. And using that whip he violently expels the animal sellers and the moneychangers. He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t take anytime to ask them why they are doing what they are doing. His retribution is swift and brutal. In light of his actions in this text, how do we view Jesus? How can we as Christians follow Jesus’ example when that example is one of violence?
The first question I pondered was: Who do I identify with in this story? Who do you identify with? The disciples do not speak in John’s version but they are observing and remembering the words of the prophets. If we identify with the disciples then we feel confused. Jesus is beloved to us and we trust in what he says and does. We have followed him and seen him do many miracles. We may not always understand BUT we see that what he does is part of God’s plan. So his removal of the moneychangers is some how a part of God’s greater plans.
The group that does engage Jesus here is the Jews. To them Jesus is some kind of prophet. He is making a very profound prophecy here. And his prophecy is misunderstood by them. Jesus tells them that the “temple” will be destroyed and he himself will raise it. The Jews take this to mean the building. They are thinking that something will cause the destruction of the Temple and Jesus will be able to miraculously rebuild it. The author of the text corrects the readers. It will not be the actual Temple but Jesus is talking about his own body. I think at this point the Jews must think that Jesus is crazy. He cannot do the things he claims he will do.
The hardest group for me to identify with is the moneychangers and animal sellers. In their minds they are not doing anything wrong. Actually, what they are doing is legal and is a part of the life of the Temple. People have to travel long distances to make sacrifices at the Temple. It is not always logical for them to bring their animals all the way from home. To make a proper offering or sacrifice they need the right kind of money and the right animals. The people working in the Temple are providing them with that. We don’t know if the animal sellers or moneychangers are offering fair compensation. But we do know that they have the legal right to be there. So I’m sure they were very mad when Jesus pushed them out. I bet they were thinking, “by what authority does this man tell us to leave our place of business?”
Now that we’ve processed some of the things that are happening in this story, we have to try to understand what Jesus is doing. To go to such great lengths to remove these people from the Temple, Jesus must have some pretty powerful motivation. To explain what Jesus’ motivations are I want to engage you in some theological conversation.
We know for a fact that human beings are sinful. It’s part of who we are. Since Adam and Eve’s first sin in the garden of Eden, we have failed at following God’s commands. Our sin is real. But we also know that God forgives our sins. God offered Jesus, his only son as a sacrifice for our sin. So if we can all claim sin, what is evil? Are any of us evil?
Well hopefully none of us could be considered evil. But who then? Hitler. Stalin. Castro. Recently there has been a campaign that popped up on the Internet. There is man you may not be familiar with. His name is Joseph Kony. Kony is becoming famous, not because of good things he’s done but because he is a very very bad man. There is a civil war Uganda that has been ongoing for nearly 3 decades. In the late 1980’s Kony became the leader of a group called the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since then the LRA has lead a brutal campaign that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. And the worst part of this story is that the LRA uses children as soldiers. Young children are taken from their homes and trained to shoot guns. They are forced to kill their own family members and committee unspeakable acts. This is a truly sad story. And unfortunately this kind of thing happens all over the world.
As people who live in a free country, we seldom witness such horrors. But for the people of Uganda, this is a living nightmare. People like Kony, and other military dictators who oppress through force should not be allowed to continue. The system of oppression that they enforce is evil. There is no question. And this is just one story. If you do your research you will find many systems of evil all over the world. Evil truly does exist today.
I think this is what Jesus is reacting to. He has identified the selling of sacrifices and money as a system of evil. The moneychangers and animal sellers have become a physical barrier to the people’s relationship with God. God’s people are kept away from worshiping their God in the Temple until they can sacrifice enough money. The system is evil because it keeps people away from God. Jesus does not want this system of evil to continue. And so he is angry. And I can understand why. Through his dramatic act of destruction, Jesus removes the physical barriers that separate the people from God. Just as his death on the cross-removed the last barrier that separated us from the love of God.
Jesus truly loves us. But God does not love evil. God can use our hands to end evil. We can do God’s work and end systems that keep in people in horrible situations and away from the love of God. We can use our voices to speak to politicians. We can use our ears to listen to those who are hurt. We can use our hands to bring aid to those who have nothing. We can follow Jesus’ example through the gifts of peace and compassion. Our zeal for God’s house will consume us because Jesus has set us free.