There is a viral MEME, you know, the thing that has a photo of something and usually has a funny caption, of Jesus clearing the Temple of the Money Changers. The caption on the MEME reads, “If anyone ever asks you what would Jesus Do? Remind them that slipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.” This makes for a nice soundbite or MEME, but how theological is it?
The other problem is the soundbite is asking the wrong question. The question should not be what Jesus would do since we are not Jesus. The question should be, what is Jesus asking us to do?
Sure, in the story from the Gospel of St. John, we do see Jesus, in the Temple, with a whip, flipping over tables, and chasing people. But as I always caution, Scripture usually goes much deeper than what we first encounter on the page. We must drill down into the passage to see what is happening.
As he has done on many previous occasions, he comes to the Temple and finds the tables of the Money Changers there. Worshippers needed to buy things for the sacrifice, and they could only buy them from the sellers in the marketplace at the Temple. As a way for the Temple to make a little extra, they created their own currency and required that this currency be used in the Temple precincts. The exchange rate was set, usually not particularly good for the person exchanging their funds.
Now there are a couple of important things happening in this story. First, Jesus needed to get the attention of the Temple authorities. His time was coming to an end, and he needed to make a big splash to get their attention. Jesus needs the Temple authorities to be concerned about him, but he has just been some backwater preacher up until now. Jesus needs to go big or go home.
The second thing happening here is the focus of Jesus’ rage is not on the political system or the injustice of big corporations. Jesus’ rath is on those in authority in the Temple, the Chief Priests, and Scribes. The ones who study the law all day and are supposed to have the best interests of the people they serve at heart. The authorities know what is going on, but they turn a blind eye to it because, well, simply put, it is making them money.
Jesus is calling out the hypocrisy of the system in the Church. The system that has been created benefits those in power, not the poor or those on the margins. Under the watchful eyes of the Authorities in the Temple, the system that has been created makes it difficult for everyone to be accepted and feel welcome. Jesus is coming to flip the entire system over, not just the tables of the Money Changers. Jesus comes and flips over the practice of sacrifice and offers himself as the ultimate sacrifice once and for all. John places this story not as a stand-alone but as part of the larger Gospel story of change and transformation.
The third thing happening here is the personal dimension of the story. There is always a personal dimension to the Gospel for me. The Jews believed that God resided in the Temple, God’s house if you will. Jesus is changing the dynamic of theological thought that takes God out of the Temple of brick and mortar and places God in the Temple of Humanity, in our hearts. But for God to dwell there, there must be room. Jesus asks each of us to chase away those things that keep us from the true worship of God. Jesus wants to cleanse the Temple of our hearts; he wants to slip over the tables of hatred, racism, classism, nationalism, and all the other isms that live in our hearts. Jesus wants to change our Temple from brick and mortar to compassionate, caring flesh that sees us not using people for what we can gain but helping people because, like us, they are beloved children of God. Jesus wants us to make room for God in our lives and not just in a superficial way but in an intense and personal, dare I say, intimate way.
My wife and I have been clearing out spaces in our home that we do not usually see. You know the places, closets, basements, and all the rest. As our baby gets older, we are discovering she will need more room to play, so we have to make room. We are going through things that we no longer use or are broken and discarding some, selling some, and giving away most.
The season of Lent is a particular time on the Church calendar. The services and the readings point towards this idea of renewal and cleansing. Take time during this season to make room in your Temple for God. Clear away some of the things that keep us from that deep relationship that God wants to have with each of us.