The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
John 2:13-22 (ESV)
What Jesus would do for the love of God’s house? Was Jesus defending the sanctity of the bricks and mortar of the temple, or was He protesting the perversion of worship and extortion of the people by the ruling authorities?
The temple in Jerusalem where Jesus drove out the moneylenders was the second temple, (the original temple of Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC) and it was actually built by Herod. Herod was not so much into worshiping God as he was about making himself look good. The second temple was magnificent- but it ended up being destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, never to be rebuilt. The Dome of the Rock- a Muslim mosque- stands on the site today.
Jesus wasn’t really concerned with bricks and mortar. He was concerned about people being taken advantage of in the name of God. Even today, there are those who make ill-gotten gain in the name of God by promising miracles or giving “prophecies” in exchange for cash.
It is true that the legitimate work of the church of Christ takes financial resources. The work of making disciples- preaching the Gospel, helping the needy, comforting those in need, and providing a healthy and safe place for us to worship and for our children to learn and grow in faith isn’t glamorous. The resources to truly nurture and provide for God’s people on earth- the Body of Christ- are vital, and we are to give as our consciences compel us (2 Corinthians 9:6-15) and as we are able. Christian communities shouldn’t operate the way the world does. Our concern should be that the Gospel is preached, and the sacraments are given, and that as many people as possible would hear the Good News of Jesus (Romans 10:17.)
The temple Jesus spoke of was His own body, His body given freely, destroyed by every human who has or ever will live. That temple was rebuilt in three days! Not Herod’s temple of bricks and mortar, but a far greater and precious temple.
The house of God is the body of believers-it is not the buildings where Christ’s church meets. While buildings are important for the mission of the church, the community of believers who gather for Word and Sacrament are truly the house to which Jesus was referring, and the house Jesus is passionate about.
We don’t like to picture Jesus as that guy- the one who cracks the whip and takes out His wrath. Everyone loves the depictions of Jesus as the gentle Shepherd, or Jesus who is patiently knocking on the door, or Jesus praying in the garden. We don’t want to think of Jesus with the cat o’ nine tails whipping the unholy thunder out of “prophets for profit” or of Jesus delivering sweet ninja moves on various enterprising merchants who are engaged in fleecing the flock. We get a bit disturbed to know that even Jesus gets angry. None of us likes to think about the reality of the wrath of God.
Jesus does have righteous anger against practices that take advantage of people and that slander His holy name. Just as a good father would not hesitate to protect his wife and family from an intruder who comes to rob and pillage, Jesus defends His own as well.
It is true that mercy triumphs over judgment. Otherwise there would be no hope for anyone because everyone alive falls short of the glory of God. It is good to know that Jesus loves us and defends us, even though we don’t deserve it, and even if we don’t always see His hand protecting us.
Jesus taught that His kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:33-36) We know we are living in the paradox world of now, but not yet. May we always trust in Jesus defending and protecting us from those who would do us harm, and may we be free to love and serve Him.