The story of Jesus cleansing the Temple appears in all four gospels. John’s version appears in the Revised Common Lectionary on the Third Sunday in Lent, Year B. Here is a sermon on this text that imagines what Jesus might do and say if he came in and cracked the whip in our congregations and higher governing bodies of the church today.
No More Business As Usual!
A Sermon on John2:13-22 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Unlike the tax collectors at their tables, the temple sacrifice sellers and the moneychangers could feel good about what they were doing. They were a service industry. The law of God decreed that people were to worship God by offering animal sacrifices, and not just any old runt of the litter. Animals for worship had to be the appropriate species, whole and unblemished. If you came to Jerusalem from far away, what a tremendous help it was not to have to transport these animals! You could purchase just what you needed right there. And not only that, if your coins were inappropriate for the house of God—if they had graven images of Caesar on them, for example—you could change them before you went in. Then you could put money in the offering with a clear conscience.
The tables of the animal sellers and moneychangers were a welcome sight. Their proprietors helped pilgrims keep God’s law. This was especially true at Passover time when crowds of people from all over the world came to worship at the temple. It did people’s hearts good to see so many worshipers, to see business booming, you might say.
What a contrast it was to what went on at the tax collectors’ tables: outright fraud! Gouging the poor! That was a disgrace! Somebody ought to do something about that.
Like every Jewish man, Jesus regularly worshiped at the temple. It began in babyhood when Mary and Joseph took him there to dedicate him to God, making their sacrifice according to the law. At twelve years old, Jesus was already discussing scripture with the teachers there. Jesus was thoroughly familiar with life in the temple.
On that fateful day when he entered the temple courtyard, Jesus stood there a moment observing it all. But he was not pleased. He saw crowds of people participating in the routines and rituals, but little genuine, deep-in-the heart worship of God. What he saw there was not so much underhandedness (although some of that might have been going on) as it was spiritual emptiness. The temple was supposed to be the place to encounter God. But the people, and especially the religious leaders, the professional servants of God, had gotten so caught up in business as usual that they had drifted away from God. The spiritual core of their worship was gone. Nobody expected God to say anything new. Nobody, or almost nobody, was listening. (more…)