Sunday Lent 3
John 2. 13-22
When was the last time you were angry I wonder? And, more importantly,
what did you do about it?
The Jesus we meet today is
as far from the Victorian picture-book, 'Gentle Jesus, meek and
mild', as it is possible to get.... but for all that I think
today's Jesus can seem real to us in a way that often he is not.
Today's Jesus allows his human side to come to the fore well
and truly! But maybe it is his divine nature too that we get
a glimpse of? The wrath of God is well and truly on display...
Can you imagine what it must
have been like to be in the Temple that day?
We need to remember that the
Temple itself - the holy of holies - was relatively tiny....
a small chamber that housed the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy
Seat and to which only the High Priest went in - and then only
on one day of the year.... it was thought to be that dangerous
a place. A place where one might encounter God in all his might....
Not many human beings were up to that.
But outside the Holy of Holies
were the various courts and the various altars on which the religious
sacrifices were constantly being offered. And in the outermost
courts were the pens of the animals themselves and the money-changers
facilitating the exchange of the idolatrous Roman coinage for
the 'pure' Temple shekels.
I was reminded this week of
the origins of the Temple. It all began out as a threshing floor
in the time of King David. And it belonged not to an Israelite,
but to a Jebusite called Araunah. In 2 Samuel 24 you can read
how David decides to set up an altar to God in an effort to divert
the ravages of plague on his people. A plague that is a result
of David incurring God's righteous anger.
Araunah owns a threshing floor situated on a high point in the
place that will grow into modern Jerusalem. This is where the
harvest sheaves are spread and then winnowed or threshed - either
by oxen or with a wooden flail - and the chaff, the rubbish,
is got rid of - blown away, while the valuable grain remains.
David comes as a victorious war lord and Araunah is all for giving
him the site as a gift (!) but David, (who isn't averse to helping
himself to other men's wives when he wants to!) insists that
he must pay a fair price if his altar and his sacrifices are
to have any effect. Legend also has it that this high place was
the very spot many years previously, where Isaac was once offered
as a sacrifice to God by Abraham, and where God provided an alternative
sacrifice in the shape of a ram. But sacrifice is always costly...
So the bargain is struck; a
fair price is paid, the altar is built and the pestilence leaves
the Israelites. And a few years later, this is where Solomon
constructs the first and maybe the greatest Temple.
So now here you are; standing
on this holy place, where generations have prayed and made their
sacrifices. The place is packed as it is festival time. The animals
are bleating and lowing - sensing in terror their imminent death.
The floor is slick with blood and worse. The smell must have
been pretty strong too - remember this is no modern abattoir
and the climate is hot.
Then suddenly there is shouting
and the charismatic preacher from the North Country is arguing
with the Temple authorities, flailing about him with a whip,
setting the animals loose to charge, panicked through the narrow
streets leading from the Temple, up-ending tables and sending
the coins and the scales used for weighing them flying. We are
back to a threshing floor where the rubbish is being separated
from what is essentially good... And another costly sacrifice
is about to appear - although we may not recognise it
David's insistence on fairness
has been corrupted over the years. Now this is a place of exploitation
and cheating. Pilgrims - whether rich or poor - some of them
travelling hundreds of miles to visit Jerusalem, cannot all
bring their own animals for sacrifice. So there is a good trade
in suitable beasts, raised on the hills just outside of town
and brought in daily to the Temple surrounds. And if people are
charged over the odds for them - well, that is only to be expected
isn't it? How many of you have visited Disneyland or Disneyworld?
Did you expect to pay the same there for a coke as you do in
Sainsbury's or the Co-Op? Of course not!
Only you can't use ordinary money to buy your lamb or bull or
(if you are not that wealthy) a pair of pigeons. Because that
money has the image of Caesar on it and is therefore non-Kosher
as far as the Temple priests and the scribes are concerned. No,
you must change your money for special Temple coinage, and guess
who controls the exchange rate?! So as a Pilgrim desperate to
gain favour and status from visiting this special, holy place
- the place where you believe you can be closer to God than anywhere
else - the place where Abraham and David and Solomon have stood
before you... you are prey to all kinds of exploitation.
No wonder Jesus was angry,
when he realised what was going on.
A place that should symbolise
fair dealing and God's mercy to his people, had become subverted
So he boiled over - the Red
Mist descended and he took action of the most radical and outrageous
And how are you going to react?
Do you agree with him? Do you think he should have left well
enough alone? After all, everything was running peacefully and
smoothly before he started! Can you sense his anger? Does it
frighten you? Can you anticipate the trouble that he may be stirring
up? And not just for himself, but for his followers too?...
But we are not in first century
Palestine - just as well perhaps (I don't fancy having to slaughter
any animals on our altar here this morning!). But that is not
to say that there is not plenty of injustice and corruption in
our own world. And we should be getting angry about that! We
should be thinking about what action we can take to draw attention
to the unfairness that afflicts many people today. How can they
be expected to lead decent, fulfilled lives? Maybe radical action
is called for?
Well I am not seeking to stir
up a riot - don't worry - but, in this election year, we should
be asking some very serious questions of ALL our politicians
all of those who want our votes in a few weeks. Seeking the wellbeing
and common good - not just for ourselves and our own families,
but for those who are least able to argue and fight for themselves....
Surely whatever particular political shade you embrace, that
is the Christian response? Holy righteous anger - both dangerous
and inspiring! Amen.