Reflections for March 3, 2024

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I’m sorry to share that Vassie Fowler, the Exec Director of Seeds, is unable to join us this morning; she needed to cancel at the last minute, but we hope that she may join us in the coming weeks.  I’d like to offer some brief reflections on the Gospel story this morning.  Today, we are reminded that again and again, we are shown the way.  I’m sure we’ve all lost our way at some point, perhaps lost on the way to a party or lost in a rural area where the signs are not great.  It wasn’t that long ago when we didn’t have access to GPS and we actually had to read road maps.  And even now, sometimes, our GPS navigators lead us in the wrong direction.  

So it also may be in our spiritual lives.  We get lost in the busyness or sorrow or mundane in our own lives.  We get lost in the midst of so much coming at us in life and all of sudden we realize that we need to find our way back to our spiritual compass.  We need to find the markers that remind us that God is still out there inviting us home.  Let us pray, O Holy One, help to recenter us on the journey; point us in the right direction and walk with us as we journey in faith and hope, following Jesus and his way of love. Amen.

Today, we read a passage from the Gospel of John in which we see the real anger of Jesus.  This is rare in the Gospels, if not in his life.  We don’t read too many stories of his anger, yes, he can become frustrated with the hypocrisy of religious leaders and he can become impatient with those who are not open to his message, but we don’t often see his anger on such display.  And yet, anger can also tell us much about a person.  At best, it lets us know when something just isn’t right, and a righteous anger on behalf of others who may be suffering injustly speaks about our own moral compass and what we say we care about in the world.   

Scripture commentary reminds us that John organizes his Gospel around six miraculous “signs” Jesus performs over the course of his public ministry. These function like signposts along the path, pointing toward Important themes  that John wants to emphasize about who Jesus is and what his mission is all about. The first of these signs is when Jesus, encouraged by his mother, turns water into wine during a wedding in Galilee. Today’s passage comes immediately on the heels of that wedding story, as if John is saying: Look, something new and wondrous has come into the world, a new day is dawning — and now, to get a sense of what’s really at stake, listen to this story of Jesus and the Temple in Jerusalem.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke also include a story of Jesus angrily clearing out the temple, but they include the story near the end of their respective gospels.  John’s version offers a slightly different perspective, not only because it happens near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry rather than at its end, but also because Jesus calls the place not a “den of robbers” but simply “a marketplace.” 

Why is he so upset?  We know that he doesn’t travel through Galilee and Jerusalem denouncing local markets, and after all, the temple had to include a marketplace in order to make the longstanding sacrificial system run smoothly. Jesus’ anger seems to be focused not on marketplaces alone, or on corruption in general, but rather on the system itself. His actions seem to say: It’s long past time for that system to end, and for a new era to begin.  In the story, Jesus  publicly displays his anger in the important space of the Temple in Jerusalem, at this important time within Jewish tradition,  the days just before Passover.  Jesus creates a whip out of cords and drives out the merchants, animals, and money changers, turning over their tables with righteous indignation: “Stop making God’s house a marketplace!”

As one writer notes, “The temple’s sacrificial system depended on that marketplace to supply both the animals suitable for sacrifice — cattle, sheep, and doves — and the special coins permitted in the temple. The idea seems to be that the traders are part of a layer of separation between God and Israel that one day will be overcome.  Jesus driving the traders out of the temple, like his  arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey, is a kind of street theater declaring through action that the long-awaited new era has begun. Holiness will overflow conventional bounds, and the-temple-as-we-know-it will give way to a more widespread, accessible, direct mode of encountering God.”

For John, Jesus’ arrival signals the dawn of a new age, a new intimacy with God, a new conception of “the temple” not as a building but as a person in spirit and truth, Jesus, God’s Word made flesh. The old sacrificial system must end; there’s no need for animals and blood and money changers; in fact, the old system only stands as an impediment to the new day. 

Why is Jesus angry? He shares  the ancient anger of the prophets, who also criticized the sacrificial system of animals as he invites his followers to a more intimate and direct relationship with God through the simplicity of prayer, in spirit, and in truth, not bound by any building or system of exchange. In the beautiful passage from Micah 6, the prophet presents a contrast to the tradition of animal sacrifices to the Lord and offers this important wisdom: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”  In his own way, Jesus continues the spirit of that message.  It appears that he is indeed angry about any system or structure that creates an apparent barrier between God and God’s people.  So much of Jesus’ public ministry is moving out to people, helping people to feel the nearness of God in their lives, teaching them that God indeed stands near to them and cares about the systems that are unjust and cause harm to the community.  We might consider what would cause Jesus to be angry today?  What invites your righteous anger at this time in history?  We need to listen to that and imagine ways to change the systems to allow it to continue.  Jesus came to dismantle the barriers between God and God’s people.  He sought to invite them to imagine a better way to be in relationship with God and one another that brings abundant life and that allows for  joy and gladness, not just for the few but for the many.  Again and again, Jesus shows us the Way.                                     

Resources:  Commentary on John from