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 sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After 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. – John 2:13-22 (NRSV)
The Jewish Temple has several stages before you reach the Most Holy Place. Jews entering through the Beautiful Gate, arrive first in the Court of the Women. Passing through an internal gate, if you were a man, you would enter the Court of Israel. This stood at the periphery of the Court of the Priests where the altar and the great basin were located. If you were a priest scheduled for specific duties, you could enter the building itself to the Holy Place. Only the High Priest ventured further, and only on the Day of Atonement, into the Most Holy Place.
All of this was surrounded by the Court of the Gentiles.
The Royal Stoa was alongside the Court of the Gentiles. This was considered a “sacred” marketplace. Animals were sold to those travelling to the Temple. An animal for sacrifice needed to be unblemished. For many reasons, it would have been difficult for someone outside Jerusalem to bring such an animal from home. Likewise, moneychangers were essential to turn travelers’ regional currency into something that could be used locally. Further, Roman coins with images could not be used at the Temple because they were considered idolatrous. These coins needed to be exchanged for temple currency.
If you were traveling to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice, this marketplace was necessary. This was especially true when thousands of Jews and Gentile God-worshippers descended on Jerusalem. It is believed that these marketplaces spilled out of the stoa during this busy time and into the Court of the Gentiles itself. We see the same today. If a town is having a festival, many stores bring their merchandise out on to the sidewalks. We also see it in the pop-up stores and kiosks that emerge during the December buying season.
This overspill of what may have been a necessary marketplace might have contributed to Jesus’ anger. Non-Jewish worshippers were limited to this outer court. How could a Gentile pray in the midst of animal stalls and hawking vendors? How could they honor God when their ears were full of shouts of exchange rates and the cries of turtle doves?
Finally, although John doesn’t mention it, the other Gospels suggest that price-gouging was happening. If you’ve ever purchased candy at a movie theater, you understand the situation.
The religious leaders may have understood the situation, too. Not the opportunistic selling but Jesus disrupting the marketplace. The prophet Malachi described someone coming into the Temple and reforming the corruption there. Here Jesus is, turning over the tables of greed that crowded out worship in God’s dwelling place.
The religious leaders may have understood because they didn’t ask Jesus why he was causing this commotion but by what authority. The sign they want is a request for Jesus to reveal himself. Jesus complies: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
John’s Jesus rarely answers a question directly but responds in a way that challenges the questioner to reflect deeply. As in our passage last week, Jesus attempts to show us the way to thinking in terms of divine things rather than human things.
But this isn’t what the religious leaders wanted. Maybe they wanted Jesus to turn a walking stick into a snake as Moses did or lightening to strike as it did for Elijah. Maybe they had heard about the Cana water to wine thing and wanted to see that. What they didn’t want was a riddle requiring wisdom they didn’t have.
Their response is telling. They no longer seem concerned with the whip and table turning but in correcting Jesus about how long it takes to construct something as massive as the Temple and its courtyards. They are more focused on the physical building than the sanctity of God’s dwelling place. Maybe this is why they can’t comprehend that God is dwelling with them in the person of Jesus. They want to know who Jesus is, but they don’t have the ability to understand what is before them. In the words of Paul, in all their wisdom they only see Jesus as foolishness.
But Jesus has shown who he is. At the wedding at Cana, he sees a need and responds. He doesn’t just keep a party going but shows God’s mercy by allowing the groom’s family to avoid shame. And Jesus does it in abundance. At the Temple, Jesus sees injustice and responds. Like the prophets before him, he guides people away from the mechanics of sacrifice to a heart that seeks God alone. And in response to the religious leaders’ request for a sign, he reveals that he is God’s dwelling place.
It’s easy to fault the religious leaders for not seeing what is before them, but we struggle in the same way. We are steeped in the wisdom of the world, and many of us are pretty wise in it. To some extent, we have to be because we are in this world even if we aren’t to be of it. Foolishness is a hard thing to accept, and we do not want to be fools. Therefore, we live in the constant tension of our human knowledge and a divine faith. A faith seen as foolish by many.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul shows us a way that requires humility and submission, encouraging us to have faith that though we are all perishing, this foolishness of the cross — the foolishness of Jesus — is actually the way to life. Jesus shows us a way where power is not found in financial gain or the grandness of what we build but in mercy and compassion; the willingness to name injustice and seek the heart of God.Jesus shows us a way where power is not found in financial gain or the grandness of what we build but in #mercy and #compassion; the willingness to name injustice and seek the heart of God. #justice #Lent Click To Tweet
And what foolishness this is! Jesus has taught us that those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake, will save it. This doesn’t make any sense in the world’s economy. How do we save our life by losing it?
The way that Jesus shows us is not the way of our worldly common sense. Why turn the water into wine when there is nothing in it for us? Why overturn the tables of the marketplace when all we’ll get it is grief? Why bother telling people about who Jesus is when they will only see it as foolishness?
Because this the way that has been shown to us.
It is the way of Christ.
In this passage, Jesus shows us that the way of Christ requires action. We must actually turn the tables over. And there are so many tables that need upended. Where in your life do you see where profit is placed before the needs of people? What do we assume is “normal” and necessary for our lives that excludes the foreigner and the marginalized?
Jesus shows us that the way of Christ is lived in public. Our personal piety is important but what is its value if we leave it at home rather than living it in the world? We should pray for justice and peace, but we are also called to actively seek it in the world. Faith requires us to reject the world’s priorities, naming the marketplace for what it is. And just as essentially, offering people the Kingdom alternative.
And most importantly, Jesus shows us that in way of Christ life will follow death. Adam Eckhart writes, “By the surprising, ultimate power of the cross, God says no to the apparent logic that everything moves towards death.”
There is another reason we can’t fault the religious leaders. John tells us twice that the disciples “remembered.” God shows us the way through remembering. As beautiful and miraculous as it is to believe in the moment, our faith is probably more circular than that.
Current circumstances often lead us to reflect on the past. There’s a reason they say hindsight is twenty-twenty. As we seek to understand the present, we use our experiences to help us find sense. For the disciples, it might be as they heard Psalm 69, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me,” that in remembering, they now understood this moment in the Temple. Likewise, it was after Jesus was raised from the dead they remembered he had told them he would rise again. Jesus had shown them the way during his life, but it wasn’t until their remembering that they truly understood. In their remembering, they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. – 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-23 (CEB)
We may ask for signs or look for wisdom, but we won’t find the way of life without first believing who Jesus is and accepting that life comes through the cross. This way also includes action and a public living of our faith. It does no good to see injustice if we continue to sit at its table.
Again and again, God shows us the way to life. Even when the world calls it foolish, may we remind one another of the scriptures and all Jesus said and did as we walk the way of Christ together. Amen.
Jesus, turner of tables, we do not like confrontation. If we had been at the Temple that day, we most likely would have backed away — maybe even embarrassed at the spectacle you were creating. But the poor do not hear the good news, the brokenhearted are not comforted, and the captives do not find liberation when the tables of injustice remain. Again and again, show us the way and give us the courage to walk it. Amen.We may ask for signs or look for wisdom, but we won’t find the way of life without first believing who Jesus is and accepting that life comes through the cross. #Lent Click To Tweet
 Malachi 3:1-4
 Adam E. Eckhart, “ Pastoral Perspective on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25” (90), Feasting on the Gospels, Year B, Volume 2.