Summary: Jesus is angry and cleanses the temple.
Sermon for 3 Lent Yr B, 23/03/2003
Based on Jn 2:13-22
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The restoration of First Community Church had been completed. The 150-year-old house of worship with its fresh paint and newly-installed multi-coloured stained-glass windows seemed to glow under the warm April sun. Inside the sanctuary, the old hand-made pews had been carefully refinished and heavily lacquered. Bright red cushions adorned the pews and pulpit furnishings and were matched by thick, wall-to-wall carpeting. New paraments covered the pulpit, lectern and altar, and a large white metal cross had been attached to the high wall behind the new choir pews, just above a magnificent window depicting Christ standing on a hilltop preaching to the multitudes.
Pastor John surveyed the sanctuary with great pride as he stood before a shiny lectern and opened the church’s first business meeting in the remodelled building.
“I think our first item of business should be the discussion of brass nameplates for the new windows,” said George Hendriks.
“I agree!” Harold Wickenham jumped to his feet. “I would like the large one in front, the one with Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount.”
“No!” shouted Harriet Munford, “That window is mine!” I was chairperson of the stained-glass window committee, and I think I should have first choice!”
“That’s ridiculous!” Percy Winville stood, waving his arms for attention. “Nobody has given as much as I have for this restoration. And besides, my great-great grandfather was an original founder of this church! I want his name under that window!”
“Please—please!” begged Pastor John. “This is not the way to decide the issue! Anyway, I assumed that the names of all the church’s pastors would be placed under that window!”
“I will not stand for this!” Henrietta Anvil stepped heavily on Harry Johnson’s toes as she struggled out of a pew and positioned herself directly in front of Pastor John. “I give more money to this church than Percy Winville, and if anybody gets a name under that window it will…”
She was interrupted by a loud tearing noise as the top of the large, metal cross separated from the wall. The church members watched in shocked silence as the top of the cross fell, swinging down to crash loudly into the massive stained-glass window. The window shattered completely as small pieces of coloured glass flew through the air, causing Pastor John and Henrietta Anvil to fall on the floor, scrambling under a front pew for cover. From the safety of their refuge, they stared at the upside-down cross which dangled in the empty space of the window that was once filled by the image of Christ. 1
In today’s gospel, we encounter a different kind of Jesus. A Jesus whom we likely feel rather uncomfortable with. This Jesus IS ANGRY. Angry enough to use a whip made of cords to cleanse the temple. When we see Jesus at work, expressing his anger by driving out cattle, sheep, and doves and overturning the tables of the temple money changers; maybe we, like the audience of that day, are rather surprised and even shocked. After all, Jesus was meek and mild, soft-spoken, kind and gentle—wasn’t he? He was the one who taught us to turn the other cheek, and love even our enemies. How could he become so angry and do what he did?
This was a holy time of year, it was the Passover; and people in the temple courts were only doing what was required of them to do under Jewish law. They were buying and selling animals for the purpose of offering God a sacrifice in the temple. It was inconvenient for them to bring their own animal sacrifices, as they were pilgrims who travelled some distance to Jerusalem for the Passover. The money changers were necessary because the people couldn’t use the Roman money, which had the inscription of the emperor on it. They needed to exchange Roman money for the Jewish shekel, which was used to support the temple priests as well as the maintenance of the temple with a temple tax. Moreover, could one expect the money changers to do their work without gaining some profit? So, then, the question still remains: WHY WAS JESUS SO ANGRY AND WHY DID HE CLEANSE THE TEMPLE?
I believe he was angry and did what he did for at least two reasons. First of all, Jesus cleansed the temple BECAUSE THE PEOPLE HAD LOST THE ORIGINAL SENSE OF WHAT THE TEMPLE WAS FOR. They had turned it into a marketplace for the convenience of everyone. A religion of convenience. Now there’s no doubt about it, a religion of convenience is attractive to most people, because it does not expect much of them. It is a religion that intends to cater to, to help maintain everyone’s comfort level. Its main purpose is to keep the practice of religion easy and fun. A religion of convenience is designed to entertain people. Its centre focus is selfish gain, self aggrandizement—as we learned in the story of First Community Church. The trouble is, a religion of convenience loses sight of our true purpose—namely, to love and serve God and neighbour above all else. Jesus saw how such a religion of convenience was destroying the true purpose of worship in the temple.