Third Sunday In Lent

S. Lent 3.24 John 2:13-22

I’m not a Broadway musical guy, but the first thing that popped into my head, reading this text, was that song from “The King and I”:

Getting to know you, [I won’t sing, but you can hum along in your head] getting to know all about you./ Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me./… Haven’t you noticed/ suddenly I’m bright and breezy/ because of all the beautiful and new/ things I’m learning about you/ day by day…”

This scene—Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple, with the whip, the table-flipping, the house of trade tirade, the promised temple tear down/rebuild, is one of our first ‘getting to know you’ moments in the Gospels, the meet-cute scene with the King and his love interest, if you will, in the ‘loosely organized nonfiction novel/romcom’ that is holy scriptures.

Except… it’s not conventionally bright and breezy, exactly, is it? Well; I suppose that depends on your expectations—or your capacity for irony and paradox. It makes me bright and breezy, every time I read it (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit) but, truth be told, it’s one of my top ten favorite gospel readings, one to which I often turn (seeking solace and joy) during those dark moments at pastor’s conferences—like when the praise band really starts whooping it up. But, then again, as I said, I’m not a conventional Broadway musical guy, really, at all.

If you were expecting the ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ of the standard Sunday School lesson, or the popular praise song, this initial introduction to Jesus might be more jarring than bright and breezy makingit could have an opposite effect, could scare you witless, send you running for the exits. It could strike you more as a terrorist attack than a meet-cute with the King.

Which brings us to that. Chasing people with a whip, ransacking the temple, how does that makes us “bright and breezy”?!

Let’s tackle the money thing first, OK?—which so annoyed our Lord. But… why? Are church bake sales really the root of all evil? Why does the sound of coins ringing in the collection plate make Jesus go all Indiana Jones on us as if we were Nazis?

The full on freak-out is even more surprising when you recall the LORD actually authorized changing money for Israel’s sacrifices of flock and field. Yep! Deuteronomy 14 says: if it’s a long journey to the tabernacle, you can sell your food and flock for money at home and exchange the money for similar eats and treats, whatever you like, to feast before the LORD at his place.

So… huh? Why is Jesus freaking out over something he’d long ago approved?!

The conventional reading is that the money changers must have been over-charging, making too much profit. But the text neither says nor even suggests such a thing. All that Jesus says as he’s flipping over tables, pouring out the coins is “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” [literally εμποριον in Greek].

If you read the prophets’ critique of Israel’s sacrifices, Jesus’ ire starts to make sense. Divine Service is an ongoing feast not a trade-mart where you give God a sheep and he forgives you for ripping off your neighbor in that check scam; where you sit through a dull service and he’ll let you live rent-free in an eternal Disney-Land amusement park as compensation.

Because, heaven isn’t compensation, no; it’s adoration—which C.S. Lewis well described as: “the quite disinterested self-abandonment to an object which securely claims this by simply being the object it is. We’re taught to give ‘thanks to God for his great glory’ as if we owed him more thanks for being what he necessarily is than for any particular benefit he confers upon us…”

In short: it’s not the money, really; it’s the self-interested, transactional nature of contemporary Israelite temple worship that has Jesus reaching wild-eyed for his whip. But still, we may say (to paraphrase Darth Vader) ‘I find your use of violence disturbing, Commander.’ and wonder: why couldn’t Jesus just explain himself, calmly, to these well-meaning, elderly men with poor memories, that no jury would convict of wrongdoing? Flailing away with a whip doesn’t seem very Christian of Jesus, does it?

And there you see the absurdity, I hope? Whatever Jesus does is Christian because the Christ is doing it!

All I’ll say about the violence is: I can be stubborn; and if Jesus needs a whip to soften me up, bring it. He knows best. And it’s not he’s like some kind of terrorist trying to inflict maximum pain. He’s a father defending his children from robbers, pedophiles, and murderers. And when the priests, scribes, and Levites are convincing Israel that God demands money, sacrifice, good deeds before he can love us, they make God an object of hate, not love—destroying the faith by which God alone grants eternal life and joy which is serious business.

So, Jesus will defend his children from the devil and his minions—from ourselves, really—liars and murders that we are by nature.

The Jews who are left—shaken, not stirred, at least recognize righteous anger when they see it. They ask Jesus: “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Difficult to deny supernatural power’s at work here, but they’d like incontrovertible proof that it’s really YHWH doing it.

When Jesus answers “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They go, “it’s taken 46 years to build this temple (making this the year 27 AD) and you will raise it up in 3 days?” But Jesus is speaking of the temple of his body.

And this is really the key to getting to know Jesus. The OT Jews had come to see the temple as an earthly house where they could trade—animals, money, for divine favors. Jesus teaches us that the real temple is his Body—and the point of worship is to become one Body with him, losing ourselves in his love, in the marriage feast which has no end to its joy…

Which actually does make us bright and breezy. Here are beautiful and new things to learn of Jesus, day by day… He doesn’t want your stuff. He wants you! He wants you to want to catch just a glimpse of him—a divine yearning that’s better than all the world’s kinds of having. He’ll fight wild beasts, Nazis, devils, for you, lay down his life for you, to win you back, make you glorious, too… a story well worth losing ourselves in.

But just as the glory did not come without the tear-down and rebuild of the cross, so we come into his glory by the back door of his cross. This is what Lent is all about—breaking out of the prison of self-interest. When we’re captivated by Christ’s radiance (shining brightest in the darkness of his cross) then we see and shine like the Son, too.

The table is set. The King is here—host and feast. The life you lose by sharing the dying of Jesus is nothing compared to the bright and breezy life of heaven which is yours, always already, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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