Jesus drives out the merchants - John 2:13-16“Well, Jesus got angry,” we hear people of faith explain, giving ourselves the right to be mad, too.  It can be directed at the person who made us late for an event to the ugliness of human trafficking, or anything and everything in between.  Our anger can be a slow burn or a hot flash.  It can be for ourselves, or on behalf of someone else.  John’s gospel begins Jesus ministry with an act of hospitality, and then an act of outrage.  The synoptic gospels remember this act of anger at the temple as part of the last week of Jesus’ life, and John places it here, at the beginning of his ministry.  Both the miraculous wine and the passionate anger in the temple announce something key about who Jesus is.

You can read the scripture here.

You can read the Working Preacher commentary here.

Intriguingly, after the wedding in John 2, where Jesus’ “glory is revealed” Jesus spends a few days at home with his family and his disciples.  We can only wonder what he’s doing there.  Resting?  Teaching his disciples, who now know him in a different way?  Doing his laundry and enjoying some home cooking?

Is it during that time that he begins to plan what he’ll do in the temple?  The other gospels remind us that he and his family go to the temple regularly for the festivals of their faith, so he knows the temple practices.  Or, does his conviction about the temple come to him the moment he arrives there, and goes up the steps and through the doors in his new role?

John shares with us Jesus’ explanation that his own body is a replacement for this temple.  His answer doesn’t make any sense to the temple authorities, who are a foil for his teaching, given both in action and in words.   An earlier RevGals commentary explored this idea, and Julia S. wrote “The temple was understood to be God’s dwelling place. When Jesus compares himself to the temple, he is explaining that he is God’s dwelling place. The Spirit of the Lord is not constrained by the walls of the temple. Rather, the Spirit is revealed in the body of Jesus.”

The Spirit is revealed in our lives and bodies, too.  I believe that to be true, and so I wonder where, in my life, Jesus would like to tip some tables over, and disrupt my usual way of doing things.  Where would he like to get my attention, and weed out the corruption in my own small version of the temple?  Where should the tables be tipped, and the ordinary upended?

Sermon possibilities:

In his Working Preacher commentary, Robert Hoch notes a contrast between Jesus’ first action in John 2 and the second.  The wedding miracle of the wine is quiet, and the political theater of the temple is loud.  He says, “In John, proclamation corresponds to or emerges from incarnation and this text’s account of incarnation may startle us. This pericope follows on the heels of Jesus changing water into wine. In that text, Jesus’ actions are unseen. We don’t see the water turned into wine. We only hear Jesus’ command to the servants to fill the jars with water. Everything occurs on the down low, so that only the servants recognize the miracle. Everyone else simply marvels that the host has saved the best wine until last.  By contrast, in this text, Jesus acts with bold, kinetic, and unmistakable gestures.”  The sermon might explore how we are accustomed to looking for God at work – in the small, quiet movement of the Spirit, or in attention-getting dramatic moments?  Can we pay attention to both ways?  Is one more comfortable for us?

Jesus is attacking the corruption he finds in the temple, a system so ingrained that perhaps no one considered that it could be changed.  Are there things in our own houses of worship that work in the same way?  “We always do…”  “We never do…”  “We couldn’t possibly…”  Do our eyes travel over things that wound people because they’re so familiar we don’t notice any more?

Jesus’ anger is in service to his vision of a different bond between God and God’s people.  He disrupts in order to create.  Does our anger function in the same way?  Are there places for many different kinds of anger?

Where are you going with this intriguing story this week?  We would love to hear your thoughts, and continue the conversation, in the comments section below.

Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  She is ready for her Michigan winter to be over, but is thankful to live in a house where the heat is on.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.   The image above is from the Jesus MAFA series from Cameroon, from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition. You can find it here.

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3 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Table Tipping (John 2:13-25)

  1. I think in large part this passage is about priorities. As the Working Preacher podcast reminded me, to a degree the merchants at the temple were enabling the activities of the temple. It is easier (and far more practical) to buy an animal in Jerusalem rather than driving it all the way from Galilee. And Jesus does not say that the rituals themselves are wrong. So what is the issue?

    Maybe the focus has ended up on the rituals and the ways to enable them rather than on the God who the rituals are worshiping and the way God would have us live?

    OF course I listened to that AFTER I wrote my early thoughts for the week, but that is why they are called early thoughts right? My plan is to use the WWJD fad of a few years back to challenge us what makes us so passionate and even angry that we will be disruptive rather than do things decently and in good order. My thoughts (which may have changed already to a degree) are here:
    http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.ca/2018/01/looking-ahead-to-january-21-2018.html

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I read Jesus zeal for authentic worship of God, I am reminded of the way the three kings worshipped the baby Mary held and the shepherds who came just the way they were from their work. In our confirmation class I asked the youth how they come to worship, to which I got puzzled looks and the natural “my parents/grandparents bring me. “Then I asked them, “What do you do when you get there?” “Talk with my friends, greet with my parents, play on my phone in the back of the sanctuary till its time to begin, or sit and wait for it all to begin.” Then we looked again at the way the kings travelled so far just to have the opportunity to see this new king and knelt in honor even while He was with His mother. WE talked about how the shepherds left their responsibility to see Him, worship Him and then told everyone what they had seen. Do we do that r do we just go through the motions? Perhaps Jesus was exposing the ways in which we “think” we worship God as frivolous, mediocre and far easier tan developing a relationship with Him. That reminds me of the Samaritan woman at the well to whom Jesus reveals His true nature. She risked public ridicule to engage in conversation with Him, to serve Him and was rewarded with a revelation.

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