Christ in the Marketplace 3rd Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 March 7, 2021 John 2:13-22
If I had asked you to close your eyes and picture Jesus (at least before hearing today’s Gospel reading), you probably would have pictured him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, or perhaps surrounded by children as he blessed them, or maybe gently knocking on a door. You might have pictured him feeding a big crowd, or walking on water. But, after hearing our reading from John, we are left shocked and stunned by a Jesus who made a whip out of cords and drove the merchants and money-changers out of the Temple, overturning the tables used by the money-changers! Why was Jesus so upset with these people? What could cause him to act in a way that seems so contrary to his usual lifestyle? We’ll explore that in just a little while.
We also heard a passage from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, declaring that what seems foolish from the world’s point of view is actually true—the wisdom of God! Here is an example: Jesus taught that, if we want to save our lives, we will lose them, and that if we are willing to lose our lives for him, we will save them! That’s very counter-intuitive—you might even say crazy. Paul says that, in the same way, we cannot know God through our own wisdom—we can only know the wisdom of God and the POWER of God through Christ.
What I want to do today is to look at these two passages more closely, and then draw from them some clear understanding of God’s way of looking at things, a way that is often different from our “normal” way of seeing the world. Let’s take a look.
Marketplace in the Temple
When Jesus was driving folks from the Temple, he said, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” You see, Jesus had a sense that there was something special about the Temple; it was sacred, it was holy. But the Court of the Gentiles was busy with commerce. It was not just the commerce that upset Jesus. Remember with me the fact that he had visited Jerusalem frequently for Passover with his family. When he was 12, he stayed behind when the rest of the caravan headed back home. From a young age, he had had opportunities to observe the rip-offs of those who were there to worship with their sacrifices, and to pay their annual Temple Tax. I believe his DISGUST had been building for years. Here are two things that would have riled him:
- The annual Temple Tax was an amount that was equal to about 2-days’ wages for a common working man. The tax had to be paid in “Shekels of the Sanctuary”, rather than common coin. You see, other currencies were okay for trade and purchases, but they had to be exchanged into Shekels with which the tax would be paid. And the FEE to make the exchange was almost equal to the cost of the TAX! This was a rip-off of the faithful who came to worship and to give their support to the upkeep of the Temple. Shameful!
- Part of their worship was the bringing of animals that would be sacrificed at the Temple. These animals had to be your very best—without any blemish. The inspectors at the Temple would routinely REJECT animals that were brought from outside, so that the faithful would be forced to purchase pre-approved animals that were (conveniently) right there. At the very least, one would have to give a pair of doves which could be purchased outside the city for about one day’s wage. But a pair purchased in the Court of the Gentiles cost about twenty-five days’ wages!!!
William Barclay says: “This was a deliberately planned victimization of the poor pilgrims, nothing more or less than legalized robbery.” And, get this: the Temple shops were known as “the Booths of Annas” (who was a former High Priest, a man who was related to the current High Priest, Caiaphas)!
This surely would have kindled The Wrath of God! One person exploiting another always provokes the wrath of God, and doubly so when it is done under the cloak of religion!
Another thing that might have provoked God was the desecration of God’s holy place—turning the Court of the Gentiles into a marketplace full of noise and confusion. How could anyone pray there?
It was also an insult to the Gentiles, for whom this Court was built. Josephus says that there were 4 courts in the Temple: The Priests’ Court included the Holy of Holies, and only Priests were allowed. Next was the Men’s Court, then the Women’s Court. Finally, the Court of the Gentiles, included in the Temple in order to accommodate their vision that people would be coming from all over the world in their search for the One True God. In Isaiah, God says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The only portion of the Temple into which Gentiles were allowed was, by the time of Jesus, converted into a noisy marketplace where faithful pilgrims were ripped off!
Are you beginning to get an idea of why Jesus was INCENSED?! His wrath was truly a reflection of the wrath of God!
There was SO MUCH that was wrong there, and Jesus risked everything to set it straight. Many scholars believe that his challenge to this injustice, this rip-off of the faithful, was the main reason he was crucified! And, of course, they had to find a “religious” reason to justify his death.
It may seem foolish that Jesus challenged the powerful authorities in this way, but God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom!
The Message to the World
So, what message do we glean from our texts for today? One clear message is that God is full of surprises! Our typical expectations are not helpful. As Paul says, “The Jews demand signs and the Greeks desire wisdom,” but our Gospel is full of things we don’t expect! For example: Jesus uses unlikely people to be the heroes in his parables. The Good Samaritan was from Samaria, and the “good” people he was telling the story to didn’t like Samaritans! And what about the treatment the father gave to the Prodigal Son? That kind of forgiveness and generosity was NOT what the people expected from God!
The Good News of the Gospel is FULL of surprises! And who are those who are MOST ready to receive the Gospel? It’s not those who think they have everything they need, those who count themselves among the righteous. No, it’s the people who have tried everything else (and have discovered failure). It’s the people whose strength has not been enough to achieve what they want. It’s those who are grieving loss; those who are disappointed with the best the world has to offer. Paul asks, “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?!” And he shouts, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,… but Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
I’ll finish with this thought: In our prayer, we often say something like, “Lord, look at all this need. Everywhere around me, I see people hurting, people who have been knocked down or ignored or misled—can’t you do something for them?” And God’s response is: “I AM doing something for them. I sent you, and I can show them the POWER of living in Christ if you will let me use you! Wherever you are, it can be a sacred space!”