Lent III The Gospel of John/Jesus overthrowing Tables
The First Reading from Exodus 20:1-17
Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder.14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 2:13-23
13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making 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. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After 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.
Jesus Overthrowing Tables – a homily by Mother Beth
For quite some time people have referred to the church building as God’s house and that is not an entirely bad thing. Thinking of the church building as God’s house helps us to treat the building with respect and hopefully means that we will take good care of the building that we use as a place where come together to meet with God. By referring to the church building as God’s house we may also be creating some other problems for ourselves and for others. In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “Do we build God a house so that we can choose when to go and see God?” or ”Do we build God a house so that we don’t have to invite him to ours?” Her suggestion is that by naming the church building as God’s house we may be actually trying to create a box where we can place God. Keeping Him in isolation so that we know where He is when we need to find Him but also as an act of control – trying to box Him in so that God doesn’t step outside our expectations of Him.
In the gospel lesson for today, we hear John’s account of Jesus in the temple. We hear that in the temple, “[Jesus] found people selling cattle, sheep and doves and the money changers seated at their tables”. It should be noted that there was nothing strange about this. This was a normal part of temple worship. In order to make sure that the animals offered in sacrifice were without blemish and properly prepared and inspected they were sold right there in the outer courtyard of the temple.
But Jesus overthrows the tables and upsets the marketplace saying, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
Why the anger? What is so upsetting about the way things have always been done? Jesus is not interested in just keeping things going the way they always have. He comes to disrupt the status quo so that people can fully embrace who God is and the life that God has called them to.
The buying and selling of the animals happened in the outer courtyard of the temple – this was as far as any Gentile was allowed to enter and some Gentiles would gather there to hear the prayers and to be part of the worship experience. So perhaps this is one of the reasons that Jesus emphasizes in the other gospel accounts, “my Father’s house is to be a house of prayer”. But here, John does not emphasize this. We do however hear Jesus’ challenge “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. A statement that makes no sense to them at the time. In fact they challenge him back, “we have been building this temple for 46 years and you would be able to rebuild it in 3 days”. C’mon Jesus – that is just foolishness. It makes no sense. It’s not even possible. Later they realized that he was talking about his own body. That his body is the temple – that it was torn down as he was crucified and that God raised him up in three days.
This account of Jesus and the overthrowing of the tables in the temple is more than just a story – it illustrates how his ministry overthrew the old forms of worship – it is no longer about outward appearance and doing all these things right – worshipping God is about a real encounter with the living God and about renewed hearts and lives. Many who attended temple worship were just going through the motions – doing what they had been taught to do – this is what it looks like to be a good and devout Jewish worshipper. And Jesus comes to bring life to what was dead – to challenge the empty form and to call people to true worship.
Paul writes a letter to the church at Corinth and he says, “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Sometimes I think we wonder why don’t more people believe – why don’t more people turn towards Jesus?
But Paul explains – to people who are still looking for their own solutions – to those who are not done with pulling themselves up – trying their own ways to attain salvation – to those people the cross of Christ is foolish.
“Where is the debater of this age?” Paul asks. The message of the gospel is not understood by human wisdom. Although it is important to know what you believe and why – others are not won over to the gospel by clever sounding arguments. They may come to agree or mentally ascent to the wisdom of the ten commandments or the idea that there must be a higher power or a great Creator. To really believe that Jesus is the son of God and that His death on the cross is essential for life is not calculated in the brain or understood by human wisdom – it is a response of the heart – the Spirit. It is only as we come to the end of ourselves – lay aside our own reputations – our own abilities – our own works that we are truly able to receive and know the good news of Jesus Christ as the son of God – the saviour of the world. It is only as we recognize that salvation is beyond our control – beyond anything that we can do for ourselves or for others – that we can receive it.
I am a big fan of the Canadian game Trivial Pursuit and I love to watch Jeopardy. I feel good when I know the answers. It is great to be thought of as smart or the one who has the answers. We all want to be respected or recognized for something – some wisdom or some skill – some ability. It can be difficult to die to those things – it can be difficult to risk your reputation to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for your life and yet that is what it means to become a fool for Christ. Others may not understand why God is so important to you – they may question your judgment and yet someone once said, “I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of man than a fool in the eyes of God.”
Jesus says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”. And we might say to ourselves, “Well at least we got that part right. We don’t buy and sell things here!” What is a marketplace but somewhere that transactions occur – someone gives money so that they can get something or buy something from someone else?
Already this year in Lent, God has been speaking in the Old Testament passages about covenant. Last week his Covenant with Abraham, the week before His covenant with Noah and all humanity and today we hear about the ten commandments or the Old Covenant – the rules, if you will, for living a holy life before God. But do we understand that the Covenant that God makes with us is a vow and not a business contract? Do we realize that God longs to be in real relationship with us – to love us unconditionally and he longs to be loved by us in return?
I think it is easy for us to slip into thinking about our relationship with God and the church as a contract or as a transaction. I will do these things for God so that God will love me or protect me or prosper and bless me. I will exchange one hour a week of my free time so that God will honor his commitment and watch out for me and my family.
Maybe this is thinking that Jesus needs to turn the tables on. We do not earn or buy God’s favor. His love for us is not a transaction.
So the question is, what tables need to be overturned in your life? What are the things in your life, in my life, in the life of this church that need to be thrown over or set aside so that others can be drawn into God’s presence? Wouldn’t it be great if we came to church not because this is the only place that we meet God but we come to church because in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the sharing of the sacraments, and in the community of Christ’s body we perceive God’s grace most clearly and love Him mostly ardently. And from here then we are sent out to look for God and, even more, to partner with God in our various roles and venues to love and bless the people and world God loves so much?
May God help us to see this place not as a house where we keep Him until we need Him but as a recharge station – where we come to be encouraged and renewed so that we can go back out into the world – into our lives to partner with God in sharing His love and grace. May God help us to long to be in His presence and learn from Him not so that He will do things for us but because we love Him and long to worship him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.