Summary: The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the shee
We’re in John chapter 2 today, following the Lentern pattern of jumping around into different sections of the Gospels and landing upon passages that are appropriately sombre and challenging. And we’ve landed on a dousie this week - a passage that contains not one but two rather unique and entirely disturbing depictions of Jesus!
The passage begins with an account of Jesus tearing up the temple - swinging a whip, shouting, angry - and it finishes with a short note about how Jesus didn’t trust anyone - "many believed in his name", we are told, "because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them ... for he himself knew what was in everyone."
It is a bizarre depiction of Jesus - angry and untrusting - and I confess that I’m using the Catholic lectionary reading this week. The Anglican and Protestant churches, it seems, when they chose what reading to use this week, decided to leave out these last three verses about the untrusting nature of Jesus, no doubt sensing that the first part of the passage was troublesome enough. But not one to be outdone by Father Elias and his mob, I decided we’d join them in taking the longer reading and so grasp the bull by both horns!
Mind you, I suspect that you who have heard me preach over any length of time will be thinking, ’Oh, there’s nothing to worry about here. Dave seems to get some strange delight out of making Bible passages initially appear more disturbing than they really are. Give him another ten minutes and he’ll diffuse this thing, and we’ll realise that Jesus is a much more comfortable figure than these images suggest.’ I’m sorry. No such promises. Indeed, I was seriously considering ending the sermon here. I mean we’ve had a baptism this morning and there are a lot of other things going on today. Maybe an especially short sermon is called for today: ’Jesus is angry and He doesn’t trust you.’ Amen! Let’s sing hymn number ...
Well, no ... I decided that it was worth reflecting on these stories a little longer, but I can’t promise that this depiction of Jesus we get here is thereby going to become any more palatable.
Jesus is angry. There is no getting around that. And, as Thomas Fuller said, "when the heart is afire, some sparks will fly out of the mouth", and there are plenty of sparks flying in this scene in the Temple.
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild - that’s the image of Jesus we are more familiar with, and that’s what makes it so hard to come to terms with this sleeves-rolled-up, down-to-business, whip-in-hand Jesus!
I had the privilege last year of being invited to an art exhibition, displaying the works of a local girl who, in a series of paintings, had depicted Jesus as a boxer - a ring fighter. Even so, the images were of Jesus slumped in the corner between rounds, being attended to by his team, or of Him being lifted from the canvas by those who loved Him. There were no depictions of Jesus beating his opponent to a pulp. That’s just not how we envisage Jesus. It is not an image we can get comfortable with.
I wonder how we would react if we were quietly going about our Sunday worship here - in the middle of a baptism perhaps - when some fiery figure, looking like Indiana Jones - roughly shaven, weapon in hand, came crashing in through the back door, cracking his whip!
I guess we’d run, and we’d call the police. And I guess that’s what they did. They ran and called the police, though some evidently did stand their ground and challenged Jesus: ’what makes you think you had the right to do this?’
For there had been no warning. Jesus had not nailed 39 theses to the temple door, concluding with a warning that if they did not comply He would be back and He would be armed. No. It must have been like when one of those terrible bombs goes off, with no warning whatsoever. One moment everyone is quietly going about their business as usual - praying, sacrificing, buying and selling - and then the next moment ... absolute mayhem!
Why did He do it? His disciples saw it as a fulfilment of Scripture - "Zeal for Thy house will consume me." They believed, in other words, that ’it was written’ that He going was to get that angry, and so we shouldn’t have been surprised. Even so, I don’t think we were ready for it.
Why did Jesus get so angry? It was His love of the temple, the Scriptures said. More specifically, it was because they had turned His beloved temple into a marketplace. It was because their church had become a business!