This Gospel reading, it’s a pretty shocking story isn’t it? Are you shocked by it? It’s quite astonishing what happens.
Jesus goes into the Temple and turns the whole place upside down. He upends the tables, pours money everywhere. He makes a whip and uses it to drive out the stall holders, the cashiers, the animals. Absolute chaos
Seriously – think about it for a moment.
Put yourself into that scene. Picture the tables being overturned. The animals and people being herded out of the temple by a man brandishing a whip. Honestly, the more we think about it, the more shocking this story becomes.</span>
What’s more, those stall holders and cashiers were not breaking any laws - nothing in the Law or Scripture that said they couldn’t be there. In fact what they were doing was supporting the worship of God in the temple. People came to the Temple to make sacrifices – remember Mary and Joseph taking Jesus as a baby to the Temple and buying a pair of doves to sacrifice? The money changers too – the rules were that you couldn’t offer money in the Temple which had the face of a Roman god on it, which seems reasonable, so the cashiers were there to help people make an offering.
The story is full of shocking details - but this time when I read it, I was shocked by something else. I was shocked by the response of the people there
When all this kicked off, the Temple people didn’t try to wrestle Jesus to the ground, they didn’t try to arrest him – which we know they could do.They came to him and said “What sign can you show us for doing this?"
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
They were a people of great faith. When something like this happened in their Temple, their first thought was to assume that God was at work. “What sign can you show us for doing this?”</span>
Or in other words “How did God tell you to do this?”
“Where in Scripture is your justification for this?”
“What kind of miracle is going on here?”
“How do you know that God wants you to do this?”
That’s curious, isn’t it? Someone comes into the Temple, overturns everything that is going on there, creates absolute pandemonium – and they assume that God is at work and take it in their stride. They are not worried about the chaos. They don’t seem stressed at all - until Jesus answers their question.
It’s curious that what bothers them isn’t the actual drama that Jesus has just enacted, the destruction he has already brought about.What bothers them is his apparent claim that if the temple were destroyed he could rebuild it in 3 days.
Now you know and I know, because we’ve read the end of the story, that Jesus was talking about himself – was saying that if they destroy him, he would return in three days. We know as well because the gospel writer helpfully points it out to us. But the people there don’t know that, they assume he is claiming that he could rebuild the temple in three days – and that they do care about
Whips, animals, overturned tables – not so much. Making claims about the Temple – that is what bothers them. They argue with him there and then, but more importantly, we know that Jesus’ claim – however much they misunderstood it – sticks in their minds, gets talked about, because it’s what the false witnesses said about Jesus when he is brought to trial before the High Priest.
The people there, they don’t care that Jesus overturned the tables and threw out the traders - they care that he disrespected the Temple
We know, of course, that they are wrong. <span style="font-size: 1rem;">We agree with Jesus that the money changers and the traders were wrong. And yet, if we are honest, what Jesus does in the Temple, the chaos, the destruction, the whip, all those things bother us much more than what Jesus says.
And if this were to happen today - if someone were to go into St Paul’s Cathedral, say, and upend the cashier desks, crack a whip and throw everything off the shelves in the gift shop and then say that St Paul’s should be bulldozed, we’d be a lot more shocked by the destruction of the gift shop than any opinion about the building.
But what if we are wrong?
We live in a capitalist society, we tend to overvalue business and money and retail opportunities and, if we are honest, to undervalue church. So it might be that we have something to learn, not just from Jesus, but from the people interrogating Jesus.
They get so much wrong – but perhaps they are right about this. Perhaps they are right to see that the Temple itself is more important than the traders.
I’m pretty sure we get this wrong most of the time. I’m pretty sure we place a much higher value on the economy than on the church, on business than on faith, and that’s something for us all to think about
Because it comes to something when actually our response to Jesus is worse than the response of the Jewish authorities in the Temple, when we are more shocked by Jesus than they are.
Maybe it’s time to let Jesus overthrow some of the tables in our lives. Amen.