(See Scripture below)
Pay Attention! This is what one of our youth did one year when she was teaching Vacation Bible school to a room of squirrelly kids. And it worked! She got their attention. In our Gospel, Jesus gets the attention of the scribes, Pharisees and everyone else when he literally upends everything in the temple, chases sheep and cattle out into the street, tips over the money box and disrupts everything.
This story is in all four Gospels, but Matthew, Mark and Luke tell it differently. Those three Gospels, called the synoptic Gospels, tell the story of Jesus in a more chronological way and place the cleansing of the temple quite close to the stories of holy week. In those Gospels, Jesus disrupts the market, points out the latent corruption and injustice and calls the temple a “den of thieves,” infuriating the religious authorities which leads to their desire to kill Jesus.
But in the Gospel of John, this story is told in the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry – chapter 2, right after Jesus has turned water into wine and begun his healing ministry. In this telling of the story, Jesus is also upending the money tables, chasing out the sheep and cattle and people selling doves. But rather than just telling the story, John tells us that the disciples --after the resurrection – looked back on what Jesus was doing in the temple and were able to see how their own scripture – Hebrew scriptures, our Old Testament – foretold it. The scripture they quote, “zeal (which means enthusiastic love, devotion and fervor) for your house will consume me” is from Psalm 69. And they understand that Jesus is quoting the prophet Zechariah (14:20-21) who decries the use of the temple as a marketplace.1 WorkingPreacher2009 Sarah Henrich John2:13-22
John also provides a narrator to help his first readers and now us, to understand Jesus’ message. Scholars believe the Gospel of John was written around 90 CE – that’s about 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and about twenty years after the Roman military destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. 2 Dr. Craig Koester EntertheBible.org
People love their church buildings. We care for this building, Faith-Lilac Way, as a place where we hear God’s word, baptize our children, attend weddings and funerals and share bread and wine in Christian community. People give money to care for this place as a beautiful testimony to God. And this is true for most congregations and their houses of worship.
But the temple – the temple wasn’t just a house of worship for one congregation. It was a holy place for all of Israel. It was also the only place where sacrifices were done. People traveled for days – on foot – to worship there. They believed it was the place where God lived. And, at the time the Gospel of John was written, people were still trying to figure out how God the almighty, God, King of heaven and earth, the God of power and might–could allow His own house to be destroyed.
In this story, Jesus is saying, “Pay Attention.” The temple of God is not in the blocks of stone in this place but in me. He says to the religious leaders, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." That was both crazy talk and blasphemy to the religious leaders. Destroy the temple – the holiest of holies? Unthinkable! Rebuild in 3 days what has taken 46 long years to build? Ridiculous! Neither the religious leaders nor his disciples at the time could understand that Jesus was making a prophecy of his own death and resurrection. To make sure that we understand, John’s narrator says as if in a stage whisper, “Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.” But, for the disciples, it was only after the resurrection that they were able to look back, reflect and re-interpret both the role of the temple and this story in light of the resurrection of Jesus.
The disciples in John’s gospel give us a model for how to understand our changing world in light of Jesus and God’s mission for the world. Because of Jesus’ resurrection – that wasn’t at all what they thought the messiah would be or do, they needed to reflect and re-interpret what they had been taught their whole lives. And so do we. We need to continually ask, “What is God up to in our lives and in our world and how can we be a part of it?”
As Lutherans, we read and reflect upon the Word of God for direction and guidance for our lives. We believe the Word of God is: Scripture – the Bible; the Word of God is Jesus and the Word of God is proclaimed by us in word and deed.
Most people first think about the Bible when we talk about the Word of God. Today, we read three passages in Scripture – the 10 commandments in Exodus, one of Paul’s letters and a passage from the Gospel of John. These scriptures are read together because together, they deepen our reflection on the Word of God.
Jesus’ incarnation – that is, coming to earth as God with flesh on --and Jesus’ death and resurrection transformed the disciples’ and our understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, our “Old Testament”. But while we call it the “Old” Testament, it still speaks to us today. The difference is that we read it through a cross-shaped lens. Martin Luther said that every word of the Bible must be read through the cross, through our understanding of the Good News of Jesus’ love. Luther called scripture the cradle that held Christ and if a word or passage doesn’t proclaim Christ, he called it straw.
There are passages in the Bible that don’t reflect the cross of Christ. For example, in Psalm 137 we read, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” This comes in the midst of a lament psalm that grieves the loss of their own children in war and speaks out of anger and revenge. This passage doesn’t proclaim Christ. Nor do other passages that speak of cultural traditions and norms. Instead of focusing on those passages, we look to the places where we see Christ proclaimed.
The Word of God is Scripture, Jesus and the proclaimed Word. We don’t always recognize or acknowledge the proclaimed Word of God. But we do proclaim God’s Word in preaching, in study and in our daily lives. And it is to this “Proclaimed Word of God” that we, as disciples, followers of Jesus need to make certain that we “Pay Attention!” We need to pay attention because this is our witness to Christ.
Jesus gave us three ways to proclaim Christ in our daily lives: 1) Love God; 2) Love your neighbor; 3) Love yourself. First: Love God by paying attention to God through worship – which you are doing; through prayer; through including time for reflection, to listen to God. The first three commandments in our lesson from Exodus speak this: Remember that God, the great IAM is God, nothing else.
Jesus’ second commandment teaches us to love our neighbor. We do this through both words and actions. Martin Luther’s catechism is a great example of interpreting scripture through the lens of Christ. For example, he extends the commandment to not murder to helping your neighbor rather than just refraining from killing him or her.
Finally, when Jesus says, love your neighbor as yourself, he is also telling you to love yourself. God does. So we need to be gentle in the words we speak to ourselves. Stop beating yourself up when you make a mistake. Instead, confess it to God. If you hurt a neighbor, ask for their forgiveness too. And then… once you have received God’s forgiveness – forgive yourself too.
God is continuing to act in our world. God is doing something new here and now. So “Pay Attention!” God’s work is not done and God is calling you and me to be a part of sharing God’s love with our friends, family and the world. Amen.
John 2:13-22 13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken