22 June 2017

John 2:13-25

“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (vv. 16-17)

Psalm: Psalm 22:22-31


Passover time would have been hectic in Jerusalem. The annual festival (see Exodus 12:14, 24-27) marked how, at one definitive moment in Jewish history, God's angel 'passed over' Israelite homes, sparing families from death. Then, how Moses rushed God's people across a miraculously divided Red Sea to escape Egyptian slavery. Making sacrifices in the temple was a crucial part of giving thanks to God for this amazing protection and salvation. But the logistics of how to do this in a religiously correct way were complex. Visitors who'd maybe travelled far to Jerusalem for Passover needed foreign exchange to buy acceptable sacrificial animals and pay the required temple taxes. All this is behind the scene we read today, sometimes called, 'The Cleansing of the Temple'.

The episode is found in all four Gospels (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19 and Luke 19:45-48), but only John's Gospel puts it near the start of Jesus' ministry. The others record it happening not long before his trial and crucifixion. Whenever it took place, it would have been shocking and controversial. In the other Gospels, Jesus calls the temple market a "den of robbers" (eg Matthew 21:13), which sounds like an attack particularly on corrupt practices: perhaps charging more than was fair for ritually clean animals and making the poor suffer. Here it seems Jesus just doesn't want the Father's house to be a place of trade at all. Simple as that. 'Zeal for your house will consume me', quotes Psalm 69:9. Jesus shows 'zeal', passion, for the purity of God's house and anticipates death may be his reward for such conviction and dramatic action. As well as being told the events (verses 14-17) we read about the controversy they stirred up (verses 18-22). The language of 'sign', so familiar in John's Gospel, is here. 'What sign can you show?' Jesus is asked (v. 18), that can justify or explain these terrible actions. What can God possibly be pointing us towards? Think temple - think my own body, comes the answer (verses 20-21). What is destroyed will rise again. But comprehension of that will have to wait a while.

To Ponder

  • Jumble sales, bric-a-brac stalls, autumn bazaars, Christmas fairs, cathedral gift shops. To what extent are we turning sacred spaces into market places? What are your views?
  • What's the most controversial thing you've ever witnessed or heard about that happened in a place of worship? What were the consequences?