I have chosen to concentrate on the fourth passage assigned to me, John 2:13-22
I have always interpreted stories in the Bible differently than others, not because I am reading different words but because I identify with different people within those stories. When I read the story of Job, I found myself less enthralled and focusing on him than I did his friends. When I read the story of the prodigal son, I find myself identifying more with the older brother than the one that left home, and when I read the story in John 2, I find more of myself in the money changers than I do with the actions of Jesus.
When I first read the book of Job, I kept having the same thought. His friends are right. Repent of your sins and seek God with all your heart. They genuinely loved Job. They didn’t desert him in his destitute state but went outside the city and sat with him to try and council him. It seemed like good advice to me, but it was counter to the plan of God and they, though they had only good intentions, were rebuked by God for their mistaken counsel.
In the same way, I identified more with the older brother rather than the younger in the story of the prodigal son. It seems logical that the ones who have never stopped being in the service of God would be celebrated more than the one who rebels against God. It also seems that we should praise those role models more than the ones who have left the faith, but this attitude is rebuked and for good reason in the story. The good intentions to celebrate the faith of the most righteousness can often keep others from returning and having a relationship with God. Once again, good intentions do not always align with what is best for the kingdom of God.
And lastly, when I look at the money changers, I initially see nothing wrong with what they are doing. It was the time of Pentecost and as with this celebration there were three series of sacrifices: (1) the daily burnt-offerings, (2) the special offerings for a feast day (from Numbers) and (3) the waving of the loaves and lambs, and connected sacrifices (from Leviticus). Finally, "sacrifices" of freewill offerings of individuals were given to the sanctuary and to the poor. Since multiple sacrifices were required and some people had traveled from far away to attend Pentecost, it was difficult to carry with them the animals to sacrifice. The merchants in the temple were doing a good thing. They were providing a necessity to people to be justified before God. How often do we as a church find ourselves providing services such as this for others to grow closer to God? In addition, there were money changers in the temple also and not all people had the shekel required to purchase these animals for sacrifice since many were foreigners. Therefore, for a small fee (just as it is today when we exchange money) the currency could be traded. All these merchants were not there to become rich. They were there to provide a necessity to those who chose to worship God. However, God despised all these actions, despite them being performed with good will, not because they were evil but because they kept the people from truly having a relationship with him.
The outer yard of the third temple in Jerusalem was used by the gentiles for sacrifices and prayers to God. Imagine the scene there of people trying to pray. They had come to this place to offer prayers to God and to seek him, and what they found was more like a barn yard than a temple. Having to squeeze between livestock to hopefully find a spot merchants did not occupy or that the animals had not left their dung. Then, once a spot might be found, the sounds of the cattle, oxen, birds, and sounds of money in a loud market place failed to make it the intimate environment we desire to talk with God. In fact, it may have made it impossible.
For this reason we find that the cleansing of the temple by Jesus was necessary. The cleansing of the temple had little to do with a divine judgment or a justification of the wrath of Jesus against sin and more to do with the correction of actions that was keeping the people of God from truly having a relationship with him.
The reason we should focus on the merchants in this story is because most of us will find more of ourselves in their actions than we do in Jesus, when in reality it should be the other way around. We often travel down paths with the best of intentions just as the merchants did. They thought they were doing something to help others be closer to God and in doing that they must have thought it would find them some favor with God himself. However, they were blind to the fact that their seemingly good deeds were keeping themselves and others from truly having a relationship with God. Today many of us have actions in our lives that may not be sinful in and of themselves, but we must take an inventory of these deeds to know if they are truly keeping us from having a relationship with God.
As followers of Christ, we must today continue to cleanse the temple of God. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
We ourselves are the temple of God with God himself dwelling in us. Therefore, we must take an inventory of our actions and our daily routine to see if there is something keeping us from having a true relationship with God. If we find that some action, whether we can deem it good or bad in nature, that keeps us from truly seeking and finding God, we must treat it as sin and cut it from our lives.
I don’t know who you are or what your life is like but I will tell you as my brothers and sisters in Christ that God desires to have a deep and intimate relationship with you. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, most of us do this daily. So, in wrapping up, I want to urge you to do three things. 1) Meditate. Before you jump into any action, find some quite time to take a step back, think and process your life. 2) Take inventory of the actions in your life that are keeping you from God and formulate a strategic plan to cut them off or change them so that you can become more intimate with your creator 3) Repent of your sins, go in peace and sin no more.
Easy enough right? Well maybe easier said than done. I want you to know that you are not alone as we all walk this path every day. We brothers and sisters in Christ are strong together, so rely on your Christian community and know that we have a helper, the spirit of God who dwells within us. Pray for one another, go in peace and love all. Amen.