It was “business as usual” at the Temple during Passover.
Pilgrims were making their way from the far flung corners of the world back to Jerusalem to celebrate the events of the Exodus, the escape from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised land.
Business as usual. There were all these visitors to the temple. For the convenience of those who had travelled far for worshiper, (and for the very life blood of the celebration of Passover itself,) the temple vendors were engaged in the essential trade of the day as they had been for centuries.
You could change your Roman coins with that idolatrous graven image of Caesar which said “Caesar is Lord” on it for official Temple coinage that did not break the 2nd commandment of “no graven images.” The money changers were there so that your offering could be given.
It was too far to bring your own unspotted lamb to be sacrificed and roasted if you came from the far reaches of the diaspora. It was simply not practical for travelers to bring one from their own flock from so far away, so here at the Temple available for purchase were certified and approved sacrificial animals for all your Passover needs.
Purchase the sacrifice required by the tenants of the law, be that a turtledove or a young bull, and do what the law prescribed. Here the offerings that what had been done for generations, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the thanks-offering……could all be arranged.
It was business as usual until Jesus showed up. With his arrival on this day, the usual day’s commerce, trade, rite and ritual were abruptly brought to a screeching halt!
Everyone is confused about Jesus’ apparent anger here. It makes no sense to his disciples, nor to the temple officials nor or the vendors that he displaces.
We have always made sense of this gospel story by assuming that all of this activity in the Temple was somehow corrupt or illegal. And, perhaps some of it was, but the majority of it was above board!
As I pointed out, this is the very thing that has to happen in order for the Temple to operate during the festival! Coins have to be changed, animals have to be provided…so what is it that sets Jesus off here if not corruption?
It is, I would have you consider, the very attitude of “business as usual”…..
In John’s Gospel you see, we are told in the beginning that “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”
God has come now into this world in Jesus, and God is again “tabernacled” – living with and reside alongside God’s people as God had in the Exodus experience.
Then God had been a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night as they marched through the desert.
Or, back then in the Exodus God had loomed over the Ark of the Covenant within the Tabernacle, seated upon the “Mercy Seat.”
Or, back then in the Exodus event, God had been the stormy presence on Mt. Sinai, that Moses would ascend into to speak with and receive the Commandments while the people cowered below in fear of the sight.
God had come in the past to be present with God’s people in smoke and fire and lightning and thick presence.
But now, God has come to be in the midst of God’s people in the Word made flesh, the very presence of God in Jesus.
But the people were still going to the Temple as if God were to be found there in that building, behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies in some way.
“Business as usual….” We change the coins, we do the sacrifice, we eat the lamb shank and the bitter herbs, and look forward for Messiah to come ….some day. That’s what the people are doing.
And there would be nothing wrong with any of that, if it weren’t for the fact that the Messiah they have long awaited happens to now be “in the house!”
If you want to know why Jesus seems a bit peeved here, it may very well be for the same reason that parents get a bit peeved when their own children behave as if they aren’t in the same room with them–when the children behave as if the parent does not exist, as if they were not around.
“Hey! Over here! (Whistle!) Remember me? I’m the one you’re hoping shows up some day as you celebrate this feast, and guess what, I’m here now! Stop acting like it is just “business as usual!”
And that is a wonderful place for us to jump in to talk about what this Gospel lesson may have to say to us. For, you see, we too like “business as usual!”
We like a certain predictability to the way things run, in our lives and particularly in our places of worship.
We prefer orderliness, rhythm, and ritual to a sense of urgency or things overturned.
We like, “business as usual.”
It is safe.
It is predictable.
And, above all else, it is convenient.
But, when Jesus enters the scene, he ends up being none of those things!
Jesus is not safe!
Oh, we would trust him with our very lives. We trust him with our children. We trust him to be there for us, but that does not mean that he is safe. For all too often, our prayers to have Jesus come and be present for us, to teach our children, to change our lives means that the orderliness we may have craved is thrown out the window.
Jesus is not predictable. He is reliable, but not predictable.
Just when we think we may have Jesus figured out, that we may have some sense of certainty about what he might think of something, how he would probably respond to a given situation, Jesus has a way of throwing a curve at us.
Who would have expected that the Son of God would be comfortable letting a harlot wash his feet, and pointing to that as the proper preparation for his own death and burial?
Who would have expected that the compassionate and caring Jesus who dandled children upon his knee and who spoke well in all circumstances would be short with a Gentile woman, compare her situation to a “dog” and hesitate in granting her the grace and mercy of God that she had sought from him for her daughter?
Who would have thought that the one who healed so many sick whose names he never knew, would not come running when his friend Lazarus was dying? That he would instead take his time, and show up what looks like “too late?”
Just when we think we know what Jesus would probably do or say in any given situation, he is prone to fashioning a whip from the available cords and launching into doing the unexpected.
Jesus is not predictable when it comes to how the Kingdom will be proclaimed, and to whom it may be revealed, and who may be brought into it.
And Jesus is not convenient. His words pop into our minds at the most inopportune times.
The beggar is standing on the street corner holding up his cardboard sign, and we can think of a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t give our hard earned cash to this bum. He’ll just use it for booze. He probably rakes in more in an hour than you or I do for our work. He looks able bodied enough, why doesn’t he find a job? But then the words of Jesus come intruding into the back of our minds… “as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me…”
It is so inconvenient to be reminded by Jesus of that command just as I have made up my mind on my own best course of action!
Jesus is simply not safe.
Jesus is not predictable.
And most certainly, Jesus is not convenient.
What Jesus is, according to this Gospel, is driven!
Jesus is driven by a passion to make the Kingdom known.
Jesus is driven by a sense of urgency that says “business as usual” is NOT the way God works in this world anymore.
And so, Jesus fashions the whip out of the available cords, and turns over the tables, and brings the “business as usual” of the Temple to a screeching halt. He does this so that people will look at him and wonder and ask, “Who are you to do THIS?” And there, there is the opening to begin to proclaim the Kingdom, and the Word made Flesh, and God now dwelling in your midst to show you a different way to live.
And you and I, as disciples, what do you suppose Jesus expects of us? Do you suppose that he expects “business as usual?”
Or would Jesus call us to be driven as well?
Driven to make known the Kingdom?
Driven to care for those whom we meet day to day in such a way that we don’t just let them stumble on as if God were not present in the here and now?
Driven to let others know that God is not in some far off place, or safely tucked away in some temple somewhere, but that that God is on the scene right now?
What would Jesus do if he showed up here this morning? Sit politely in the back row, sing a few hymns, nod through the sermon, sip a cup of coffee after the service, and then make his way home to pull the roast out of the crock pot?
I think not!
I think, Jesus would do something very — inconvenient.
I think Jesus might just stand up and say, “what are you all doing sitting around here? There is a world of hurting people out there that I died for, get to know them! Heal them, feed them, invite them to become your friends and bring them back here where they can learn how unsafe, how unpredictable, and how inconvenient following me can be!”
That would not be “business as usual” in the congregation, I know.
But in the Gospel today, watching people go about “business as usual” seems to be what drives Jesus nuts!