Sunday, 24 February 2013

Cleaning house

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. (NASB)

I've taken a while to get to this passage as I've struggled to try and keep away with overly technical issues. This blog is about trying to be devotional, or at least exegetical to think about Scripture and life, and not just the academy. This account of Jesus clearing the temple is in Mark 11, Luke 19, Matthew 21 and is clearly set in Jesus' final week, following his acclamation is Messiah (king) by the pilgrim crowds. John clearly wants us to think about this at the start of Jesus' ministry and I think it unlikely that there were two clearings. John is doing what Tarantino does in some of his movies, not always presenting things in chronological order even though he is still doing history.

Like the turning water into wine, this is all about a changing of the guard - from practices actually commanded or based upon those to practices that won't divide Jew and the rest of the world, and will do the job properly as it were. So ceremonial washing as alluded to in the wedding sign don't make ceremonially clean for all time. Likewise, sacrifices in the temple don't deal with human sin and evil for all time. Hence, the stopping of trading in sacrifices is a statement about the greater sacrifice for sin present in Jesus. And the comments about the money changers seems to relate to an abuse of the whole system - perhaps in the way in which pilgrims were ripped off for profit where they should have been allowed to do their religious duty by making sacrifices to God free from extortion.

The other aspect of course is that as in the opening passage, Jesus is God who pitches his tent amongst his people, and hence as the presence of God among his people he is the true temple. His authority is of one who is God, not merely one who speaks for God. This is what makes Christianity unique.

What this passage makes clear is that if Jesus' claims are meant to be taken seriously, he needs to have risen from the dead. Otherwise, he's another (if not strange and non-violent) first century Jewish revolutionary proclaiming a renewed Israel. The fact that he is crucified as a false pretender marks his rejection by the politico-religious elite and typically harsh treatment by the dominant empire of the day. The resurrection shows they were both wrong, and that we too if we put our religious, political or personal agendas above those of God, are also wrong. Having said that, if we read this whole thing purely in 'religious' terms, and don't see that the resurrection is world transforming, including empire challenging - our gospel is too small.

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