Summary: A SERMON FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT 2009. We reflect upon Jesus’ call to ‘righteous anger’ when we are faced with injustice
John 2: 13-22
Journeying with Jesus through Lent #3: ‘Into the Realm of Righteous Anger’
Sermon Series: Lent 2009
A SERMON FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT 2009.
We reflect upon Jesus’ call to ‘righteous anger’ when we are faced with injustice
There was once a woman called Emily Post. She was born sometime in the early 1870’s and died in 1960. What made her famous was a book she wrote called ‘Etiquette’. This book, which ran through ten editions at the publishing house that handled her book, taught people how to get along ‘politely’ in society!
Some of what she said was good. For example, how many of us have ever been to a posh restaurant and been confused by the array of different knives, forks and spoons at our place! To be honest, I’ve never been to THAT posh a restaurant, with so much cutlery to choose from! But maybe you’ve seen the block-buster film ‘Titanic’ (1997) when Jack Dawson (the young man from ’Steerage’ class) had been invited to dine 1st class with an extremely rich family and their friends, as a reward for saving the life of young, spirited Rose DeWitt Bukater. He sits down at table and says, looking at the array of knives, forks and spoons, “Are all these for me?” Which knife / fork / to use first, that’s the question! Well, Mrs Post wrote, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use!” However, she also wrote (not only in terms of table manners, it seems!), “To do exactly as your neighbours do is the only sensible rule.” Someone else said this, in another way: “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do!” Now, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t necessarily seem very wise advice to me. Nor, in fact, does it sound very Jesus-like.
But isn’t it the case that, over the years (centuries even!) the church has given us a picture of Jesus who is quiet and calm and reserved? The Jesus who was so meek and mild that it’s difficult to imagine anyone getting so angry at him as to want to kill him! But the picture of Jesus as ‘meek and mild’ is only half the picture, as we hear from our Gospel verses today.
Here we have a picture of Jesus we don’t see very often. It’s the angry Jesus, the loud Jesus, the not so meek-and-mild Jesus. Let me set the scene for you. It’s Passover time. That’s the holiday (holy-day) celebrated in early spring, reminding the people of God’s deliverance from slavery in the land of Egypt, and of God’s fierce judgement ‘passing-over’ the homes of God’s people that had been marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. It’s a time of unleavened bread, lamb and herbs. It’s a time of sacrificial lambs and pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer prayer.
But it is more than evident that the sight that greets Jesus there that day, as he and his disciples arrive to prepare to observe Passover, angers him greatly. Verse 14 says that, in the Temple courts, Jesus finds traders, “Selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.” The word ‘courts’ means the outer courtyards of the Temple, rather than the ‘inner sanctum’, so to speak. In fact – and importantly for our understanding of this gospel story – the temple courtyards was the place reserved for the ‘gentiles’ to worship.
But, we read that, in the place of the gentiles (that is, the non-Jews who, nevertheless, wanted to worship God but had not gone through the ritual to become Jews) the space reserved for them to worship had been taken-up with a whole variety of stalls, selling all sorts of commodity – especially related to the Passover ritual of sacrifice – and those changing money. Indeed, pilgrims – Jews and non-Jews alike – came from foreign lands far away, and they needed to exchange their ‘coin’ into Temple currency. After all, on their coins (if they lived within the Roman Empire) bore the image of Caesar, and it would be next to blasphemous to offer these to God. In addition to changing their money, they would need to buy animals for sacrifice.
I guess that none of this was bad in itself – to an extent the traders were providing an essential service to those who desired to make themselves ‘right’ before God. But, on the other hand, the traders were so many and took up so much space, they were making it impossible for the gentiles to worship God. what had begun with the intention of providing a service had, in fact, become a dis-service! And Jesus sees this.