Jesus the Troublemaker – March 4, 2018
Jesus the Troublemaker
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
March 4, 2018
Main Idea: Jesus challenges us to new life.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
When you look at the picture of Jesus on the cover of our bulletin, how does it make you feel? Do you like it or not? It is quite bright, isn’t it? Do you find it cheerful or abrasive? Does it make you uneasy? How about this picture of Jesus? (show Sallman painting). This Jesus looks familiar. It is the image of Jesus that most of us grew up with. This Jesus makes us comfortable. But in our Scripture text for today, Jesus is not interested in making us comfortable. Instead Jesus challenges us to new life; new, abundant, joyful, and love filled life. As we move through this season of Lent, traveling with Jesus toward the cross, we are challenged to embrace the new life Jesus offers to us.
The story of Jesus clearing out the temple is a familiar one which is found in all four gospels. What is unusual about today’s text is that while Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story at the end of Jesus’ ministry, during Holy Week, John places it right at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, pairing it with the wedding at Cana. This placement shows us that from the start Jesus challenged everybody; the disciples, his family, the religious authorities, the crowds and us to see and experience new life in God’s love. “[The wedding at Cana] revealed the grace and glory of Jesus and the abundant new life Jesus offers. [The clearing of the Temple] highlights the challenge and threat that new life poses to the existing order (cf. John 5:1-18).” (Gail O’Day, NIB Vol. 9, p. 543)
Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of John begins with the wedding at Cana where he turns water into wine, transforming a simple wedding reception into a glorious party. From this celebration he goes to Jerusalem for another festival, that of Passover. Along with thousands of other Jews he went to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship. Remember, that at this time, Jews believed that God was present in the Jerusalem Temple in a unique way. People traveled great distances to come to Jerusalem and make sacrifices to God. But when Jesus got there, he did something outrageous, whether planned or spontaneous, we don’t know. As he entered the outer Temple gates, he saw the money changers and the animal merchants set up for the convenience of those entering. It was the religious equivalent of a Wallmart, where people could do all the business they needed in order to worship; change their currency, buy their animals to sacrifice, pick up some snacks after a long journey. It was loud, it was crowded, it was not in any way reverent. So “making a whip of cords”, Jesus set free all of the animals penned there. He took the coins of the money changers and threw them into the crowds. He knocked over the tables and created general chaos, saying “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” By his actions, he brought the Temple activity to a standstill. That day, there would be no sacrifices or worship as usual.
Jesus’ dramatic and prophetic act was in protest of a system that set up barriers between the people and God, a system that privileged the privileged, favoring those with money and resources. In the other accounts of this story he denounced the corrupt practices of the merchants but here he rejects the whole system of Temple sacrifice. After causing such chaos, the religious authorities ask him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (2:18), “What gives you the right to disrupt our worship and our practice?” Jesus answers, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” This, of course, baffles everyone. Jesus was proclaiming that God is present in him, not only in the Temple. There was no need for Temple sacrifice, no need for the poor or anyone to spend their money on sacrificial animals, no need for the Temple at all, because God was present, right there, right in front of them.
This is good news, yes? This is also tremendously disruptive news. “Jesus challenges a religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God, a temptation that exists for contemporary Christianity as well as for the Judaism of Jesus’ day.” (Gail O’Day. NIB, vol. 9,p. 545) Jesus comes to us, insisting on the removal of the barriers and systems that we create for our comfort, ease, and protection; systems which limits us from experiencing the fullness of new life. Jesus not only insists, he overturns our prejudices, scatters our rationalizations and drives us out of our safe comfort zones.
Jesus challenges us whenever we put up barriers to contain or control. Jesus challenges us when we insist that “the way we’ve always done it” is the best and only way to accomplish our mission. That’s what the Temple folk thought too! Jesus challenges us when we focus on our needs, our wants rather than the needs of others. Protecting institutions is not ministry. Jesus challenges us when we chose to remain silent rather than confronting evil. Being nice is not our highest calling, in fact, silence or inaction can be sinful. Jesus challenges us to talk about God and faith outside of church on Sunday morning. Did you know that most of our society thinks that Christians are either hypocrites or irrelevant? We know that we have important truth to share and we must share it.
Once we let go of the barriers we have built, we can clear out our lives to make room for Jesus. Jesus calls us to let go of the comfortable conventions we have created and embrace the abundant life Jesus offers. Jesus calls us to open our doors and welcome in the community around us. Jesus calls us to engage in the civil discourse regarding violence, justice, and peace. Jesus calls us to remember that this building is not our church, our community of faith is part of Christ’s church.
Jesus is a real troublemaker, we can’t get around that. And Jesus the trouble maker invites us to join him, in questioning the status quo, defending the vulnerable, and proclaiming the love of God.
As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let us embrace this liberating spirit. Let us let go of all the barriers we have created to protect ourselves so that we might fully welcome the powerful Spirit of Christ.
Let us pray,
Disrupting God, we are uneasy with the image of Jesus overturning tables and yelling at us. Help us to embrace the liberating power of Christ and the new, abundant, joyous, and love filled life he offers. Amen.
Notes and Quotes
“What does it mean to be the church of Jesus?” ( Hulitt Gloer, FOTW, Year B Vol 2, p. 93)
Context – John 2 is Wedding at Cana and this – both astonishing – both before he preaches
beginning of ministry
“The temple cleansing in John completes the inaugural event begun with the Cana miracle. John 2:1-11 revealed the grace and glory of Jesus and the abundant new life Jesus offers. John 2:13-22 highlights the challenge and threat that new life poses to the existing order (cf. John 5:1-18).” (Gail O’Day, NIB Vol. 9, p. 543)
righteous anger not just at corrupt practices but at the practices themselves. thousands of people traveled days and days to come to Jerusalem.
A system that put up barriers to God, that cost the poor the most,
prophetic theater – MLK , Montgomery Bus Boycott, March in Selma, March for our Lives,
J interrupt worship during one of the most holy and most busy days of the year.
Signs – Cana first sign – this, Judeans ask What sign is this?
Temple – v. 13, Sanctuary v. 19, 20, 21)
J is not safe but he is good (like Aslan in Lion, Witch, Wardrobe)
” Jesus comes to challenge rather than to reinforce my prejudices and illusions. He comes to defamiliarize what religion makes safe and cozy. He never once says “understand me”. He says something far more radical. “Follow me.”” (Daniel Clendenin. journeywithjesus.net)
J tosses out the usual order of business.
J’s body is the temple – the location of God
“Jesus has the authority to challenge the authority of the Temple because his whole life bears testimony to the power of God in the world…. Jesus challenges a religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God, a temptation that exists for contemporary Christianity as well as for the Judaism of Jesus’ day.” (Gail O’Day. NIB, vol. 9,p. 545)
“the text pushes us to imagine Jesus entering our own sanctuaries, overturning our own cherished rationalizations, and driving us out in the name of God.” (Paul Shupe, FOTW, Year B, Vol 2, p. 94)
Where are we putting up barriers to God?
Insisting on “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
remaining silent instead of confronting evil
focusing on ourselves rather than others
only talking about God and faith when we are here
How might we clear out the temples of our lives?
Throw open the doors
Engage in civil discourse
Reach out to others, welcome others, work with others
Remember that this is not our church, it is Christ’s church
Jesus the troublemaker invites us to join him. Questioning the status quo, defending the vulnerable, proclaiming the love of God.