By Pamela A. Lewis
Reading from the Gospel of John, 2:13-25
13 The 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.
23When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
The inward and mysterious atmosphere that surrounded Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine at the Cana wedding feast has changed. The volume has been turned up. We are in the temple of Jerusalem amongst the animal merchants and moneychangers. We can almost smell the odors of the oxen and sheep, as well as hear the raised voices of the changers and the sound of coins hitting the tables. There is nothing unusual about this scene; it is an unchanging custom that has never been questioned or challenged. As the refrain of the opening song in Fiddler On the Roof goes, this is “Tradition.”
The sight of this activity in the temple unleashes Jesus’ devouring zeal and moves him to become a scourge, like the one he fashions from the bits of rope discarded on the temple floor and uses to whip and roust the merchants and money-changers. He is also a scourge to the Jews who question his claim that he will raise the temple (his body) in three days after its destruction. For “blasphemy” such as this, Jesus will himself be scourged before his crucifixion.
Certain of his identity, Jesus now publicly and dramatically declares that he is God’s Son, and rails against the desecration of his Father’s house. As the Son, Jesus has every right to disrupt this activity and to bring the curtain down on this “tradition.” His rebuke and denunciation of the corruption of the temple is God’s disruptive in-breaking of his presence, overturning what is false religion, unholy, and unjust.
We are now in a time of overturned tables, which is forcing us to confront what has corrupted our Father’s house. Like Jesus, will we be eaten up by zeal for this house, or will we turn those tables right side up?
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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