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Friday, March 6, 2015

Lent 3: Don't mess with our God and Don't mess with the Poor

                                                                                                 Image sourced here
This is one of those stories of Jesus that we don't always like to hear. Do you remember the old hymn

Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear;
Things I would ask Him to tell me if He were here;

Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea,
Stories of Jesus, tell them to me. 
Click here for the full hymn

This is a story we struggle with, just as we struggle with the story of the poor old fig tree that has no fruit and Jesus curses it and, as if that's not enough, kills it. It's a story that is obviously important because each of the gospel writers feels it's necessary to include it in their recording of the Good News. Remember, the gospels were written quite independently, by different authors, for different audiences. They didn't think: "Well, Luke told this story, so I don't have to."...No, they each recorded what for them was the essence of the gospel that they felt had to be conveyed. And each of them includes the story of the cleansing of the Temple as essential to the gospel. They don't all include .... for  example, the story of the first Holy Communion, ... they don't all record the parable of the prodigal son ... and so we could go on. They ALL include this story of Jesus turning over tables, making a whip, and driving people out of the Temple.

Interestingly, John places this story right at the start of Jesus ministry, in John chapter 2. In fact all that's happened in John's gospel at this point is that John the Baptist has baptised Jesus, Jesus has called some disciples and they've gone to a wedding where Jesus did His first miracle ... then comes this Temple cleansing, followed by the rest of the story of Jesus' ministry in the next 20 chapters. Matthew, Mark and Luke all place this story in the last week of Jesus' life, at the end of each of their gospels. Some folk therefore say that Jesus cleansed the temple with His whip twice, at the very beginning and at the very end of His ministry ... for me that makes the story even more "difficult". Be that all as it may be, this story reminds us once again, that ours is a Saviour that you don't mess with.
Yes, He is, in the words of another hymn,
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.
Click here for the full hymn

He is, make no mistake, meek and mild ... but His is Kingdom meekness and Kingdom mildness, which sometimes comes with a whip.

I like that John places this story right at the very beginning of Jesus ministry, there's a sense that it is a declaration: Don't mess with God's house .... Don't mess with God ... and Don't mess with God's dear friends, the poor. Estimates vary, but it is believed that with Jewish pilgrims coming from all over the "world", as many as two and a quarter million people would be in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, most of them poor. And the religious leaders and Temple authorities had turned the Temple into a racket which fleeced the poor. The Temple and the priesthood got rich, which in itself is not a sin, but to get rich at the expense of the poor, that, throughout the Scriptures, is a different matter which  places you under the wrath and judgement of God. But, messing with the rich is often a very dangerous business, but it's never one that Jesus, or the prophets before Him or after Him have shied away from. Right at the start of His ministry we see that Jesus didn't come to make friends and influence people so much as He came to proclaim and inaugurate a Kingdom ... and from the very start, that proclamation would make far more enemies than it would disciples.



I'm sure almost all of us have seen a movie where there is an out of control car hurtling down a steep, twisty and turny road and lower down the mountain is a car or a truck or a tractor making its innocent way up the mountain. Imagine you're watching the scene, and with horror you see what's going to happen ... round one of the corners, any minute now ...............

Welcome to this story. Jesus has been warning His fellow Jews since the start of His ministry, that God's kingdom is coming. But they, for the most part, have preferred their own aspirations, their own agendas. They have been speeding on their way, eager for national liberation of the revolutionary sort. Within the society, the rich have been getting richer, and the poor poorer. The self appointed religious watch dogs have been concentrating on the outward rules and purity regulations rather than the heart. The Temple itself, the place where heaven and earth were supposed to meet, where God's forgiveness was supposed to happen, has been used as a symbol of national pride. They've ignored the warning signs and are heading straight for a sharp bend ... where, coming the other way, is Jesus.

Jesus has been announcing that this was the time for God to become king. What's more, He had been making it happen - bringing God's fresh rule of healing and restoration to broken lives, families, households. He has been in person the place where heaven and earth meet, where forgiveness and all that goes with it have happened. And now He's come to Jerusalem, on a collision course with the Temple, granted what it has become. The place won't be big enough for both of them, something will have to give. At the end of the gospels we see the outcome of Jesus action ... and that outcome is that another whip is raised, this time onto the back of Jesus. So .... who won ... we serve a King who doesn't jump out the way of those speeding in the opposite direction, don't we?

Who's winning in your life? God's way or your way ... Jesus or you ... the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world? There isn't room in any of our lives for both, because they move in opposite directions, God's will and your will, and the end result of that is always messy.

Therefore, Jesus, because of His deep love for us, comes to the temple, which is you and me, not always with a whip, in fact very seldom with a whip, but come He does and cleanse He longs to do.

Do you want to be made clean?

Let us pray.



 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

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