The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - March 4, 2018
Scripture Reading: John 2:13-22

Sermon Title: Clearing the Temple

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     The passage we read this morning is from the second chapter in John, early in the book of John.  In John, just like in the Synoptic gospels, Jesus really starts his ministry with his baptism by John the Baptist. Last week we read that after that baptism he was led or driven out into the desert for 40 days.  In John we donít have any time in the desert; after he is baptized he goes to a wedding with his mother.  At that wedding they ran out of wine, and Jesus saves the day by changing water into wine.  And then he goes into the temple, and we have this scene. 

     The story is not too different in the other 3 gospels but it is in Jesusí last days that he goes into the temple.  Really this scene, for the other gospel writers, is the key event that causes Jesus to be arrested and killed.  In John, this is one of the first things in his ministry, and it was not until he raised Nicodemus from the dead that the authorities felt Jesus has pushed it too far, and arrange to have him crucified.  That is the blessing and the curse of our Christian religion.  The gospels were probably not written until well after Jesus died, and probably by people who didnít know Jesus, heard the stories handed down, so did he do that early in his ministry or late in his ministry?  Or does it matter?

     What is going on here, early in his ministry or late in his ministry, is a misunderstanding.  I have talked about the temple a bit before.  It was the center of the life of Jewish people.  As a good Jew you were required to go there at certain times to make sacrifices, and you had a yearly half shekel payment that you made to the temple, so generally you would make a trip there at least once a year.  Passover was happening, so lots of people were in town.  Good time to make your trip to Jerusalem.  But if you were traveling a distance, money was easy to deal with.   It is hard to travel with two doves, a tent to sleep in and all the food you will need for your time there. 

     And so these money changers and animal dealers made sense.  They were not bad people.  If you came in with money from your own country, the temple preferred a certain currency.  Just like here, if you put Euros into the plate, we would accept them with thanks, but the oil company does not want to be paid in Euros, they want US Dollars.  In the temple, they would accept other currencies, but preferred the local silver shekel or half shekel.  They did keep a bit as payment for exchanging currency, and probably there were several dealers, so you could shop around for the best exchange rate.  Those selling animals are also doing a service.  You could get the animals you needed there, didnít have to travel with them.  And there is even some evidence that among those dealers, there were even souvenir dealers. 

     This was the ancient worldís Mall of America, in Jerusalem.  And this temple had been under construction for about 40 years.  It was a renovation really.  A temple had been on that site for about a thousand years, and Solomonís temple would have been something to see.  This one was smaller, but still must have been amazing.  Certainly the biggest building most had ever seen, as so much going on. 
But to Jesus, this is not what the temple was about. In fact, this was not really a temple where God lived.  The temple that Jesus tells us about is his body.  It will be torn down and in 3 days rise again. 

     There is one little detail we should notice because it might just give us a clue as to what this should mean for us even yet today.  The telling detail is Johnís insertion in verse 17 of Psalm 69:9, ďZeal for your house consumes me.Ē

     If you look back at Psalm 69, you will find that it is a psalm of lament, a heartfelt cry to God.  The reason the psalmist cried out was because he was being looked down on and poked fun of on account of his faith.  So the original context of the verse quoted in John 2:17 is someone who is zealous for the house of God but who is suffering because of that enthusiasm.  If I tell you that I have great zeal for the ministry and the purpose of First Church, you might take that to mean that I am devoted to that church, that I am dedicated to making sure that unholy activities are kept well away from First Church.   Zeal for Godís house, we think, means protecting it.

     But that is not quite what the writer of Psalm 69 meant.  His point was that because he was zealous about the house of God, his neighbors made fun of him, insulted him, told him he was a backward-thinking idiot for finding so much meaning in something as silly as a temple.  Psalm 69 is about suffering for your faith.  Itís about how the world sneers at us for claiming that a worship service is more valuable than anything that could ever happen in the seats of worldly power.  It takes faith to believe that what we do in worship on a Sunday morning matters in an eternal sense.  It takes faith to believe that what a preacher conveys in a biblically based sermon could be more vital than anything that could ever emerge from the U.N. or from the office of any president, king, or prime minister.  The writer of Psalm 69 believed that the ancient temple of Israel was the center of the universe, the house of God, the dwelling place of the cosmic Creator.  And his neighbors saw this zeal for Godís house and they laughed out loud.  How could he believe such an outlandish, silly thing?

     That is the verse John throws into this story.  And it tips us off that what this is all about is how sharp our spiritual vision is.  Do we know what matters in life and what doesnít, and are we willing to put up with the worldís scorn rather than give up on our faith?  So maybe Jesus threw out the money changers because their ever-expanding emporium was eclipsing the real meaning of the temple.  Maybe the temple had started to look like just any old Jerusalem flea market, and so people were forgetting that to have faith was to believe that Godís house is most definitely not just any old place.  Maybe Jesus wanted to shake people up so they could remember that to have faith is a radical thing that should make us radically different from those who do not have faith.

     You may have heard a story a few years back. The Washington Post arranged an experiment.  They had Joshua Bell go to a DC Metro Station, dressed in ordinary clothes, bring his violin case, open it up and play.  As he played, a few children stopped to listen, but were pulled away by their parents eager to catch their train.  Some people dropped a few dollars in his case, and after a while he ended up with $32.17.  1097 people passed by, 7 stopped to listen to him, and only one recognized who he was.  He played for 45 minutes, on a violin worth almost 4 million dollars.  People had paid over $100 a seat to listen to a similar concert just a few nights before. 

     Jesus made an outrageous claim.  The temple could be torn down and rebuilt in only 3 days.  The disciples that day were not looking at Jesus, they were looking at this human made structure.   Maybe the lesson from that experiment in Washington that day is that sometimes we need to listen to the children, they were the ones who knew that this was something new and different and wonderful.  Sometimes the thing we seek is right in front of our eyes, but we fail to recognize it. 

     Nothing that humans make can ever show us who God is.  We can have a beautiful church, we can be open, accepting and welcoming to all who enter through our doors, but we can not show them who God is.   But it is not until we show others who Jesus is that they understand who God is. 

     Disciples often get described as not the brightest group in the world, but we have the whole story.  Still I think we sometimes miss it, at least I do.   We get all wrapped up in trying to explain the miracles, how did this happen, how did that happen?  Maybe we get too hung up on all the whys.  On some academic level, some of that is helpful, but sometimes maybe the idea is that we should look at what is right in front of us, in the word of God, in the stories of Jesus, in the bread and the juice, in the faces of those around us, and that is where we will find God.