Jesus “Cleanses the Temple”
Jesus Mafa

What’s on Your Table?

John 2:13-22

“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.” [Keep Reading]

Joel Van Dyke

Guatemala City, Guatemala

The striking contrast of two completely distinct, but adjacent worlds, startled my senses and threw me into a state of disorientation. We were in Kolkata, India as part of a weeklong city consultation for doctoral students. One morning, without any particular instruction, we hopped off a bus in a neighborhood swarming with people. Drawn up in the movement of the crowd, we found ourselves in the midst of a high festival day for the Hindu goddess Kali; the crowd was flowing toward her temple.

Hundreds stood in lines, waiting their turn to make sacrifice on an outdoor altar officiated by a temple priest. The odor of fresh blood filled the air and body parts of sacrificed animals were lying on the ground around the altar. A young couple approached, handing over their baby to the priest, who said some words while holding the child above the altar. He then removed the baby and in its place went a young goat whose head the priest abruptly cut off. Atonement.

We were stunned, to say the least. Our group had not been given context or warning before encountering the blood and sacrifice. Immediately, we were herded back together and lead around the corner toward a building with an open front door. We entered this second “temple,” unabated by any distracting crowds, and suddenly found ourselves in the foyer of Mother Theresa’s home for the “Death and Dying Destitutes.”

People on mattresses wrapped up in blankets were lying all over the floor. Nuns and a small assortment of others gently caressed the hair and massaged the body parts of the afflicted. The holy reverence and peace we found there radiated in stark contrast to the surging crowds and blood sacrifice that we had just seen; the contrast was disorienting.

The Gospel text for the third week of Lent invites us to consider contrasting views of “worship” at the temple. Jesus enters His Father’s house and finds the existing worship activity abhorrent. He makes a whip of cords, scattering the crowd and turning over the tables of merchandise. I have always envisioned this scene as an affirmation of Jesus’ humanity, lending me an excuse for the times I am tempted to lose my temper in righteous anger. However, Episcopalian priest Fleming Rutledge offers up an alternative point of view:

“You see, what Jesus did on that famous day in the temple in Jerusalem was not to lose his temper. On that day, Jesus announced in an unmistakable way that he was Lord of the temple. When he threw over the tables of the moneychangers, he was saying, “I AM the messenger of the covenant, of whom the prophet spoke.”

If Rutledge is right, then dubbing this narrative the “cleansing of the temple” might not be accurate. Might we want to consider calling it “The Proclamation of the Temple Closure” or “The Bold Presentation of Jesus as Temple Replacement?”

Jesus himself is now the new temple who in three days will be torn down and raised up again. Jesus comes as the refiner’s fire to shut down the church as is and, instead, boldly proclaim the truth that he is taking its place. Jesus himself—His Incarnation, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection—following Him becomes the true worship of the Father.

Indeed, part of what challenges us this Lenten season on a personal level is the ability to see our respective and collective “tables” that need “turning over”—rivalry, fear, competition, anger, judgment, unforgiveness and all the other idols that rule our hearts and push us toward scapegoating and sacrifice. The mercy of Jesus, rooted in unconditional love for all, refuses to be pushed to the margins while allowing tables topped with idolatrous pursuits to stand in the way of true relationship to God and neighbor, of true worship.

Oh let it be said of us this Lenten season—“they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22): “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6).

Joel Van Dyke
Director | Urban Training Collaborative
Guatemala City, Guatemala