Well, we're continuing our journey through John's gospel at Barney's, and yesterday got up to the end of chapter two!!We were considering John's account of Jesus clearing the temple courts in John 2:13-22. (Watch on video here). It's Passover time, and the temple courts are full of travellers, pilgrims, as well as money changers and people selling animals for sacrifice.
Jesus turns up, and contrary to the mythical impression we sometimes have of 'baby Jesus meek and mild etc.', gets really angry, throws over the tables of the money changers, does a bit of improvised whip-making and drives them out of the temple courts - animals and people alike.
It is very possible that the selling of animals and the changing of money originally started in response to the real practical needs of pilgrims travelling from other regions to make sacrifices and pay taxes at the temple in Jerusalem. They were required to do both by their law and culture - and it would certainly have been easier to buy a sheep or a few doves in Jerusalem, rather than trying to squeeze them in to their suitcases for the trip down.
However, it seems like these practices got well out of hand. Jesus calls them all robbers, and reminds them abruptly that the temple was intended to be a house of prayer for all nations - and here they were, filling the temple courts (the only part of the temple into which non-Jews were allowed) with trading, stealing, and profiteering. (cf. Mark 11:17)
Reading the passage this time round, I am struck by the realisation that the people of Israel have forgotten who they are. They're suffering a severe bout of corporate amnesia.
Despite the fact that it is Passover, they've forgotten that God brought them out of slavery, and set before them the hope and promise of new life with God. Instead they are exchanging money at extortionate rates, selling doves (the sacrificial animal of only those who could afford nothing better) at 'daylight robbery' prices.
Despite being in the courts of the temple, they've forgotten that God chose them to be his people, and wanted to be their God. They've forgotten that God desires relationship with them, and worship from them. They've forgotten that God has chosen to make his dwelling place there in the midst of them - in the temple.
Despite having set up stall in the Courts of the Gentiles (as the temple courts were known), they have forgotten the calling God gave to Abraham - the Father of their nation - the calling to be God's blessed people on earth, so that, "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:1-3).
In fact, they are suffering such severe amnesia, that when the son of God stands in their midst and calls them to account, they don't recognise him at all. (John 2:18)
And so, Jesus gets angry.
He rocks up in the midst of the old reality of the temple and sacrificial system - in the midst of stark examples of abuse, stealing, ritual, hypocrisy, the temple system at it's very worst - and turns everything upside down.
Through his angry words Jesus is shouting,
"Enough! Enough! Have you forgotten who you are?! This is God's house! God who rescued you from slavery. God who calls you his own. God who wants to be your God. God who wants to be with you. God who blessed you so much - so that you would be a blessing to all the other nations too."
Through his violent actions, Jesus is showing them that the old reality of the law, the temple, the sacrificial system is indeed that - the old reality.
As he drives out the animals, he is signalling the advent of a new way of making good for selfishness and sin.
As he turns over the tables of the money changers, he is announcing the new reality of the Kingdom of God, and calling his people to "repent" and "believe".
As he clears the temple courts of animals and money changers, he is pointing towards the establishment of a new temple system - when God will not only dwell in buildings built by human hands, but in the hearts, in the bodies of every person who chooses to follow him with their lives.
There is a new reality.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus is truly the Son of God. Come and see. Repent. And believe.
Have I forgotten who I am?
Have I forgotten who I am? Have we, the church, forgotten who we are?
Have I forgotten the freedom, the joy, the hope, the new life that Jesus has given to me? Have we forgotten that we are sons and daughters of the King? Have we forgotten that we are called blessed, so that we can be a blessing to others?
Do we need Jesus to break in and disrupt our habits, our patterns, our traditions, our lifestyles and turn things upside down?
LORD, remind us who we are. Remind us who we are called to be. Remind us, your church, your missionary people, of our identity and purpose as salt, light and witnesses of the great news of your Kingdom.