01/21/18 – JV – “Oh My! Look What Jesus Did!”

“OH MY! LOOK WHAT JESUS DID!”

January 21, 2018
Jazz Vespers
Homily: John 2:13-25
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

This is a disturbing, uncharacteristic story about Jesus, but it was deemed significant enough to be included in all four gospels. When I read this passage, I imagine Jesus wielding a whip like Indiana Jones chasing away the bad guys. This isn’t the picture of Jesus holding a lamb or with children sitting on his lap that many of us grew up with in our Sunday School classes. This is an angry Jesus. Jesus did warn of the dangers of anger and preached a gospel of forgiveness and peace. But, Jesus also preached about justice and compassion for the poor and other vulnerable members of society. And, Jesus talked more about the evils of idolizing wealth more than any other sin.

Jesus learned about what made God angry in the synagogue reading the Hebrew Bible. The anger Jesus expressed in the temple was a righteous anger. Oh, sure we all think we are in the right when we get angry, but that is mostly self-righteous anger spawned by insults to our own egos. In Jesus’ bible, our Old Testament, God displayed anger. God’s anger was stirred up by humanity’s inhumanity to humanity – our neighbors, our sisters and brothers. God’s anger blazed when observing the worship of worldly idols, most often wealth and power.

This story is often referred to as “The Cleansing of the Temple,” but, Jesus wasn’t trying to purify it or reform corrupt temple practices, he wanted to get rid of the system altogether. No, I don’t mean the ancient Jewish practice of sacrifice or giving to support the temple. What Jesus was angry about was the unjust social and economic systems of the Roman Empire, which temple leaders had wed to religion for their own benefit.

This co-opting of the empire economy, social caste system, and governmental laws under the guise of the expectation of what a faithful Jew should do undermined the essential tenets of the faith.

How did the temple authorities do it? The money changers sat outside of the temple in the area known as the “Court of the Gentiles.” They exchanged money for anyone. With the vast area of the Roman Empire, people came to Jerusalem from many nations with many different currencies. Thus, a place where they could buy and sell different currencies was essential to the economy. The Jews had to change their Roman currency into shekels before they purchased animals for sacrifice or gave money, since using Roman currency in the temple was forbidden. The Jews viewed the Empire as the oppressive occupiers of their land.

The money changers were used for basic business transactions and currency speculation, which worked like playing the stock market today. Antiquity had their own version of “insider traders,” who could turn great profits whenever Roman troops came into town with large sums of new coins. The influx of the new currency would depress the value of the local currencies. The money changers served as both the local bankers and stock brokers.

As one would expect, like the infamous tax collectors, the money changers became corrupt.
They would cite a higher fee for monetary transactions than the government charged and would inflate the exchange rate. The pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple was required by Jewish law. As always, the people who suffered the most were the poor. The exchange rate and the temple tax were the equivalent of between $3000-$4000 dollars in our current economy. After that was payed, the Jewish pilgrims had to purchase animals for sacrifice in the temple. The temple required that these animals be without blemish. Naturally, it was a temple authority that determined whether the animal was “unblemished.” If he deemed the animal not “perfect,” the worshipper would have to buy another animal at an increased price.

In reality, the temple authorities were not only not caring for the poor, they were intentionally worsening their plight. For Jesus, this financial practice struck at the heart of Judaism by being idolatrous. The nefarious intent of the temple authorities demonstrated a love for money and power more than a love for God; and, a failing to treat others as they would want to be treated. Truly, evil had entered the temple and Jesus saw the necessity of driving it out.

Is this not a current issue with the majority of white Evangelical Christians and those with the most political power in our country today? While Evangelical Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham claim divine support for their political endorsements, based on their own agendas. Not to paint all white Evangelical Christians with the same brush, there are Evangelical Christian leaders, albeit a minority, who condemn flipping the tables on Jesus’ message for political, social and economic gain.

If we are sitting on the sidelines and remaining silent, we perpetuate the public antagonism toward Christianity as a “hypocritical religion.” You’ve heard the phrase used to criticize reform that ends up being worse than the original problem – “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” When Jesus is thrown out in favor of personal agendas and self-serving political ideologies, nothing “Christian” is left. And, that should whip up our anger.

What would Jesus do? That is an unnecessary question. The question by which we should be challenged is: What did Jesus do? Perhaps, we need to read the gospels again if we have forgotten.

Amen.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois