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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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 3rd Sunday in Lent

John 2:13-22

 With The Crack of a Whip

 

The Setting

With the crack of a whip, he drove the money changes from the temple

In this dramatic act, Jesus challenged the integrity, virtue, sincerity, ethics, and authority of the religious leaders in the city of Jerusalem. He caught them by surprise. They were not expecting such a blatant attack against their religious tradition by such an unknown man. Who was this Galilean? What right did he have to challenge us? Who gave him the authority to question the genuineness of our religious practices?

The day Jesus walked into the Temple, he was a just one devote Jew among a 2 million who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. He had come down from the village of Carpernaum where he had recently taken up his residence after his baptism and temptation. Capernaum was located along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was in a beautiful location. If you stood on the shore you could see the snow capped peak of Mt Hermon to the northeast. If you scanned along the shoreline in either direction, you would see a continuous succession of lovely small bays. Eventually you would see the southern most shore, 12 mile in the distance. The Sea of Galilee is no more than a tiny inland lake.

The village of Capernaum was both a prosperous fishing community and also the hub of trade for the northern region of Galilee. People were constantly coming and going. They did not get bogged down in the legalism of their brothers and sisters who resided in Jerusalem. They had a beautiful limestone synagogue that stood near the edge of the lake.1 Each Sabbath they would gather and read from the Torah and offer their prayers but they had a plain faith. They did not have the Temple looming over their village. They did not have a Pharisee standing on every street corner showing off their religious piety. They were simple down to earth people who worked hard to make a living. They would be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking about God. Jesus first brought his message to these kind of people.

But each year these simple people would travel from Capernaum to Jerusalem to celebrate the three major festivals-Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The devote Jew was expected to travel to Jerusalem on each for each of these festivals and offer a sacrifice to Yahweh. The walk from Capernaum to Jerusalem was more than a three-day journey. Jesus would have begun his trip by walking along the shoreline of Galilee and then heading east for about eight miles to Nazareth. After walking through his hometown he would have continued south past the Herod's royal estates in the Jezreel Valley. The next day he would have walked through the rolling hills and valleys of Samaria. The third day would have been spent walking along the ridge route of the mountains of Judea up to Jerusalem. The entire trip would cover 70 long miles2 

Let me ask you when you think about Jesus what do you see? Do you see a pale, fair-skinned, scrawny wimp as portrayed in many paintings? Do you see a frail and gentile, man who was meek and mild? Could your Jesus have walked over 70 miles from Capernaum to Jerusalem in three days?

J. B. Phillips laments that the word "child" has so few words that rhyme with it. He believes that if there had been a greater selection of words from which to choose we would have been spared the childhood rhyme of

Gentle Jesus meek and mild
    Look upon a little child.

Or 

Christian children all must be.
    Mild, obedient good as he.

Phillips wonders why people use the word mild to describe Jesus. The word mild conjures up images of a person "...who would let sleeping dogs lie and avoid trouble wherever possible; someone of a placid temperament who is almost a stranger to the passions of red-blooded humanity; someone who is a bit of a nonentity, both uninspired and uninspiring." How can this word be use to describe a man "who did not hesitate to challenge and expose the hypocrisies of the religious people?" How does this image fit with the person who "was regarded by the authorities as a public danger?" How does this adjective describe a man "who could be moved to violent anger by shameless exploitation or smug complacent orthodoxy?" 3

Phillips contends that such a distorted view of God creates a god who is "woolly and sentimental." This prevents us from fully appreciating the true "Character of the Eternal Deity." It also prevents us from responding in faithful obedience. Love becomes distorted. Pathetic niceties substitute for sacrificial service. Public smiles and warm handshakes replace invitations of hospitality. Superficial conversation supersedes attentive listening while the other person shares the pain of their heart. Jesus was love in action, but he was not meek and mild.

With the crack of a whip, Jesus drove the money changes from the temple

Every Jew endeared the Passover festival. Even those who could not travel to Jerusalem for the festivals of Pentecost and Tabernacles, made the spring pilgrimage. Jews from across the nation and throughout the world would return to the holy city to offer their sacrifices. A Jewish historian estimated that over 250,000 lambs were offered during the feast implying that over 2 million people participated in the celebration.4

The festival is celebrated on the 14th day of the lunar month Nisan that is the first day of the full moon at the end of March or the beginning of April. The feast commemorates the night when the angel of death "passed over" the homes of the Jews who had marked the doors of their home with the blood of a lamb. In the confusion and mayhem that followed, the Jews escaped from Egypt. The religious holiday reenacts Jewish liberation from political tyranny, deliverance from economic bondage and freedom from social oppression. It was the day the Israelites threw off the yoke of slavery and as free men and women walked out of Egypt and into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. However, the day Jesus walked into the Temple, the festival had taken on a yoke of bondage.

Passover was a travel agent dream come true but a public officia'ls nightmare. The nation begun to prepare for the movement of 2 million people a month in advance. Bridges and roads were repaired. Tombs were given a fresh whitening to prevent accidentally contact by the pilgrims. Shepherds and herdsman would drive their livestock toward the capital city to supply the animals for sacrifice. The pilgrims could not bring with them their own livestock. The severe travel conditions made it too difficult. Secondly, even if they were able to transport animals, the chance of the animal being approved for sacrifice was minimal. The priests made a commission off each animal sold in the Temple market. Whereas in theory an animal that was without spot or blemish should have been approved, in practice only the ones sold in the Temple were. The sale of the sacrificial animals became a lucrative business. The thirst of greed inflated the price. Only the rich could afford the finest offering. The poor were forced to accept the leftovers and the discarded and were once again reminded that they were not quite good enough to present their offerings to God.

In addition to purchasing animals at exorbitant prices, the pilgrims also were at the mercy of those who exchanged currency. The people who came to Jerusalem traveled from nearly every province of the Roman Empire. Each sojourner brought with them a different coinage. Each was exchanged at a set rate to guaranteed a substantial profit. 

Picture the scene that Jesus saw the day he walked into the Temple. Tables would have been erected in rows along the wall. Behind them sat merchants with their wares. The sound of coins would be ringing ing the air. The cry of cattle and sheep about to be slaughtered would be would be heard in the background. Men arguing, disputing and bargaining over the price and the quality of the goods. With each transaction, Jesus knew that the seller had essentially stolen a portion of his profit.

Religion is more than just the vertical dimension of the spiritual life. Ethics and morality are the practical expression of a theoretical faith. How we conduct ourselves in the marketplace reflects our standing before God. Certain business practices may be legal but are they ethical. Paying workers the minimum wage may be a sound business practice. It may be an acceptable standard in the community. Nevertheless, what does it say about a person's willingness to share with others the blessings of God. Making a profit is not condemned in Scripture but accumulating great wealth by taking advantage of the poor is.

With the crack of a whip, drove the money changers from the temple

At the end of the First Century BCE, Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. The original Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezer and the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE. The survivors were led into exile in Babylonia. The Second Temple, having been rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, was destroyed by Vespasian and the Romans in 70 BCE. Both Temples were destroyed, it is said, on the 9th day of Av which has become a day of mourning for Jews throughout the ages. The temple Herod constructed was doubled the size of Solomon's Temple. 5 He also enclosed it with four enormous retaining walls to establish an outer court that became known as the Court of the Gentiles. This was the closest access a foreigner would have to the holy sanctuary. Tablets hung on the wall warning that if a Gentile passed that point the penalty was death. Even Gentile converts were barred from the inner courts. But the Gentiles were not to be denied access to God. Their Court was to be a place of prayer and meditation. It was to be treated with respect and reverence. Common law prohibited anyone from entering the area with their staff, sandal, wallet, or dust on their feet. The intent of the law was to prevent the area from being used during the week as a short cut across the Mount of Olives. The Court of the Gentiles was to be a sacred place but it was here that the tables were set up to exchange money. The stalls to house the animals would have been erected in this area. The commercialized atmosphere of buying and selling of animals and goods would have compromised and disrupted the worship of Yahweh by the Gentiles.6 

It may well be that Jesus was moved to anger by the exclusive contempt that the Jews showed toward the Gentiles. On another occasion he quotes from the prophet Isaiah, "My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:7) Jesus may have been reminding religious leaders that they had no right to be indifferent toward excluding anyone's access to God.

A church growth consultant asked a leadership board, "who do you exclude?" The lay people were stunned by the question. Their immediate response was "No one!" They argued that they wanted to include everyone. The consultant asked them, "Would a deaf person be able to understand your service?" "Would a person who spoke a different language?" His point was that no matter how hard we try we are going to exclude someone. However, that is different from excluding people simply because we do not want to change. Older generations exclude younger generations simply by their refusal to accept contemporary styles of music. Young people who have been weaned on the blitzing images of MTV find the plodding of traditional worship boring an uninteresting. Visitors do not feel included simple because you talk to them on Sunday morning but ignore them the other six days of the week. I wonder what other was we exclude people from approaching God?

 CONCLUSION

The action of Jesus in the Temple challenges our understanding of his character, our business ethics and our religious practices. He was not kind and gentle that day. He offended people by threatening their income, social status, and religious practices. He risked his life because a righteous anger burned within his soul. The issues were too important. He could not accept a religion that oppressed people. He would not tolerate a faith that took advantage of others or one that excluded others. 
With the crack of a whip, he drove the money changers from the temple



 

1 Afred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing), 365, 366.

2 Merilyn Hargis, "The Ins and Outs of Travel in First Century Palestine," Church History Magazine, Summer 1998, Vol.XVII, No. 3, 8.

3 J. B. Phillips, Your God is too Small, (New York: MacMillian, 1960), 23, 24.

4 Merilyn Hargis, "The Ins and Outs of Travel in First Century Palestine."

5 Online: http://uahcweb.org/ky/thetemple/Mount.html

6 Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1954), 285, 286

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