An enigmatic historical account and the blame game.
by Mike Stavlund
Gospel Reading: John 2:13-22
For Sunday, March 11, 2012: Year B—Lent 3
For some reason, Jesus picks this one day out of his whole lifetime of trips to the Temple to come unhinged.
Why is Jesus so Angry?
Presumably, the commerce there was common practice, and this was just another ordinary day. Except that this was the day that the crazy person from Nazareth made a whip and drove all of the people and animals out of the Temple, flipping tables as he went.
Jesus even makes a special point of dressing down the dove retailers, accusing them of making the Temple into a marketplace.
When the din dies down a bit, the Temple authorities ask Jesus, “Why are you doing this?”
Ask a Reasonable Question, Get a Non-Answer
To this very sensible question, Jesus gives an answer that is both non sequitur and highly inflammatory: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Say What, Jesus?
This is akin to shouting “Bomb!” in the TSA line, or choosing the lawn of the White House as a great place to run your wind-sprints. Destroy the Temple? What are you talking about, Jesus? Just what kind of fight are you trying to start here?
With some restraint, it seems, the Temple authorities ask for some clarification. At which point Jesus goes mute. End of story.
What Really Happened that Day?
We know we should give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, but what if we don’t? Some uncredentialed person walks into a holy site, goes crazy, then gives a cryptic response and/or veiled threat before he shuts up completely.
The story doesn’t even make sense without a lot of speculative interpretation. Even the disciples who witnessed it don’t know what to make of it: John’s interpretive clues don’t occur to him until much later.
More than most, this is a gospel passage that gets inflicted on others from a later perspective. Even in the text itself, the disciples don’t know who to blame until they’ve had time to get their dander up. It seems that this tradition has been carried on ever since.
The Blame Game
There are lots of cheap shots that a low-church guy like myself can make here about preachers with salaries and churches with mortgages (which only serve to hide my jealousy at personalized parking places and retirement plans).
Perhaps without even noticing, we put faces on these characters: the faces of our enemies and opponents. So Jesus is mad at commerce, or capitalism. Jesus is angry at religious establishments. Or authorities. Or Judaism. Or religion itself. Or sacrifices. Or Temples. Or church buildings. Or worship services. And so on.
Ann Lamott has famously said, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
The Hardest Question
We want to ask, “What was Jesus’ intent here?” But maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe this enigmatic passage acts as a mirror to show us our own faults, biases, and prejudices.
Who do we tend to blame? In this Lenten season of self-examination, perhaps that’s the hardest question of all.
Mike Stavlund writes from a 5-car pile-up at the intersection of his Christian faith and real life. A husband of over 15 years and a father of 4 children, he lives with his wife and 3 daughters in a small house outside Washington, DC. He’s a part of an innovative emergence Christian community called Common Table, a co-conspirator with the Relational Tithe, and a proud part of the collective called Emergent Village. He blogs at MikeStavlund.com, and his first book, “Force of Will”, will be published by Baker in the Spring of 2013.