Sun, Mar 04, 2018

Where's Jesus

John 2:13-22 by Doug Gunkelman

In Galilee early April marks the last burst of spring and the gradual ending of the fishing season. Now there is the opportunity to attend the Passover Festival in Jerusalem without interrupting the fishing. Not everyone can afford to go to Jerusalem. Some people will have to remain to watch over the flocks of sheep that graze on the hills around the lake. During the hot dry months before the fish begin biting again in November, many fishermen will become shepherds, the perfect matching seasonal work in the Galilee. As the fields become less supportive of the flocks, the older sheep will be gradually taken to market until only those able to produce for the coming year will be left. The fishing season will then begin again. That thinning-out process has already begun in April as the tender, first-born lambs are taken to Jerusalem for the Passover.

At the beginning of Chapter 2 of John, we find Jesus and his newly formed flock celebrating at a wedding feast in Cana where the wine continues to flow. They walk from Cana to Capernaum where they spend a few days visiting family before making their first journey together to the Passover Festival in Jerusalem.

These few days are spent sharing what they have seen and heard from the new Rabbi. The disciple’s families agree that He is a teacher worth following. Who knows, He might even be the awaited anointed one! If He should become a king, just think what being a part of His inner circle would mean for the future success of the already profitable fishing business. No longer would they be forced to pay taxes to Rome or lose all that money paid to the tax collector above or under the table for fishing licenses.

The fishing families of the Galilee, like the Zebedee’s, are solid upper middle class citizens. They have a hand in one of the country’s most lucrative export industries. Some of Jesus’ followers will be able to give ample financial support for His recently inaugurated ministry.

So with the blessings of family and friends, they follow Jesus on what will be the first of three annual trips to the Passover celebration; this one being the foretaste of Jesus’ crucifixion which will happen two years later when they journey to Jerusalem for a third and final time.

This time they take the easiest route from Capernaum up to Jerusalem, across the lake and through the Jordan Valley.

As Jesus and his followers approach the Temple in Jerusalem, they find themselves in the midst of a bustling marketplace. It is filled with pilgrims and residents hurrying to complete their last minute shopping for the feast. Stands are heaped with bitter herbs – various kinds of lettuce, dandelion, and endive – that will find their way to Passover tables. As they are eaten, the bitterness of the captivity in Egypt will be remembered. The people will pray that God will remove the bitterness of the Roman occupation.

In the meat stalls, dressed lamb and cheaper mutton hang from hooks. Doves, as well as live sheep and cattle, are kept in enclosures either for home slaughter or for sacrifice on the altar in front of God’s house. The buying and selling in the holiday mood is infectious.

“Come on . . . I give you a special price for your Passover sacrifice,” screams one seller over another. Under a row of columns in the Temple’s semidarkness hover the collectors of the yearly half-shekel tax demanded of all God’s people. It is paid not in quiet thankfulness, but with bitter accusations of gouging.

There are loud complaints against unreasonable rates for currencies that pilgrims must exchange into the coinage required for the offerings. It hurts to see the poor peasants who have saved and sacrificed so that they might attend the feast being shortchanged by the abusers of the tithes for the maintenance of God’s house.

As Jesus walks through God’s house, he can’t take it anymore.

Jesus moves to where the cattle and sheep are tied. He picks up tethering cords made of rushes. These have been discarded as tied wicker baskets of doves were emptied. He quickly fashions them into a many-stranded scourge in defiance of the pagan rulers who allow no weapons in the Temple area. He begins to beat those selling the sheep and cattle. He unties the animals, driving them along with their owners toward the grand staircase exit at the end of the Temple.

As he moves along through the rows of columns, His feet kick at the low coin tables of the moneychangers while a free hand snatches at their purses to fling away their ill-gotten gains. The ring of the rolling coins, coupled with the cry of the animals and shrieks of the shocked merchants, causes everyone to freeze for a moment.

As he drives out the sellers of doves, He begins to explain His actions. These cheaters of the poor along with other merchants are to get out of this place of worship and take their business to the market below. Turning to God’s beautiful Sanctuary, He makes their insults even more personal. He calls it His Father’s house which they have dared to make into a house of trade, a mere emporium. The prophet’s words are being fulfilled as the traders leave the Temple. This shock-filled moment will not be forgotten by Jesus’ followers, for He also seems to fulfill the words of David himself: “Zeal for your House has consumed me.”

The Judeans in charge of the Temple, reinforced by the Temple police, quickly recover from their astonishment. The Roman soldiers to be sure, do not interfere and are probably even a bit pleased with the chaos and the mess left behind. One of the Judeans has done what they themselves had been so often tempted to do.

The Judean officials gathering around Jesus demand some explanation for His actions. Jesus’ answer is provocative. He challenges them to destroy the Sanctuary, so that in three days He can raise it. But all this magnificence could not be taken apart in three days let alone put together again! Could He accomplish in three days what has taken thousands of workers 46 years to build? How absurd!

Later, Jesus’ disciples will begin to understand that what is meant is not this building, but Jesus’ very body. He is the link between heaven and earth and not this structure, whose beauty people can so easily mar and whose sanctity desecrate. As the Passover comes and many begin to trust in Him, Jesus does not return the trust. He sees around Him, in the debris of the temple, what is in a human being.

What did Jesus see that day at the beginning of his ministry? What is in a human being? Do we still need Jesus today to come through and clean us out?

On a literal level, if Jesus walked into Divinity on a Sunday morning there would be no money changing tables in the narthex for him to turn over since our planning council has limited their presence to our hallways.

But what would Jesus see in us? Now that I have young grandsons, I’m a little more in touch with what’s going on with young children again and what’s going on in them.

In January, Terri Revilock’s 1st and 2nd grade Sunday School class were learning the story of the 12 year-old Jesus going with his parents and other families from Nazareth on their annual pilgrimage to the Passover Festival in Jerusalem. On the way home, Mary and Joseph notice Jesus is not with them and have to return to Jerusalem where they find him in the temple talking with the priests.

The Sunday School lesson asked the question, “If I could talk to my pastor, what would I ask him”?

Lexa, a first grader, wanted to thank me for coming to see her grandma and reading to her from the Bible. Lexa wanted to know why I read from a Bible during church service.

Well Lexa, I’m called to be a minister of Word and Sacrament. In 7th and 8th grade confirmation, you’ll learn what that means from the catechism. For now it means that I read from the Bible and preach about what it meant back when the Bible was written as I just did and what it means for us today as I’m doing now.

Molly, another first grader, wants to know where I went to elementary school because that’s where you learn all the important stuff and Alex wants to know all the schools I went to.

I started at Liverpool Elementary School in Valley City. There were also schools in York and Litchfield which have now been combined into one big elementary next to where I went to junior high and high school on Columbia Road. We are called Buckeye Bucks.

I went to college in Kentucky not long after Daniel Boone lived there. I went to seminary to learn about being a pastor in Columbus, Ohio where my two oldest children and grandchildren live.

Riley and Emily want to know how old I am. This last Thursday on March 1, I celebrated my 59th birthday. You probably have grandparents my age!

Alexia, a 2nd grader, wants to know how many brothers and sisters I have. I have one younger brother, Donny, which is quite enough. We’ve never agreed on anything. He likes Donald Trump. That’s all I have to say about that.

Alex wants to know if I still talk to my school friends. Denise Kronenberger and I grew up together in Valley City but we hung out in different circles. She’s always been smart enough to not hang out with athletes. Denise and I talk much more now than we did in school because I’m too old to be an athlete and I depend on her to do our taxes and to occasionally serve as Divinity’s treasurer.

So if Jesus walked in to Divinity this morning and sat down in our first and second grade Sunday School class, I’m sure he would have a smile on his face as he learned what is in our children as he answered their questions. And I know Jesus had a smile on his face last night, when we received Maverick McRae into his family in the sacrament of holy baptism.

If Jesus sat down in our Adult class, he would quickly learn that what’s inside us hasn’t changed much since the first century. We all need to be cleaned out and forgiven through our faith in Christ.

Remember that when we eat the bread and drink the wine of Holy Communion, our body becomes the temple of God. God, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, takes residence in us. We prepare for Christ’s presence in us through confession and forgiveness, through getting rid of the stuff that shouldn’t be there, through overturning the tables, through starting over again!