My mom taught us how to cook, clean and do laundry. She was adamant that you needed to know those three skills before you left the house. A huge piece of SPRING CLEANING every year centered on the windows. For my mom, the ONLY way to clean a window was with vinegar and newspapers. I always got the OUTSIDE while Mom got the inside. She stood in the relative comfort of the house while I fought the bushes and shrubs, armed only with a step ladder! And she would NOT move on until both sides were done.
So, she would complete her side in nothing flat, giving her more time to criticize my side until it was perfect! And she paid great attention to newspaper usage. If she thought you were throwing newspaper away too soon, she would call out, “you’re wasting it! That paper’s still good!” On the other hand, if she thought you weren’t getting new paper often enough, she would call out, “You’re spinning your wheels! You’re spinning your wheels!” Once I went away to college, I tried to time my visits home so that I could conveniently…and “accidentally”…miss Spring Window Cleaning!
On Ash Wednesday, we began a true journey- traveling from one geographic location to another- as we walk through the story leading up to Easter. This series, called Oh, the Places You’ll Go and based on…the Dr. Suess book of the same name!…is looking at the geography of the Easter narrative and how it impacts the overall story. We started in the wilderness as Jesus faced temptation. Last Sunday, we’ve traveled about 100 miles north to the city of Cana to attend a wedding. Today, we travel about 70 miles back south to go to the hub of the Ancient Near eastern world- Jerusalem. The terrain would have been the same as last week’s journey, so again- Jesus and the disciples would have predominantly stuck to known roads and trade routes to avoid some of the more difficult countryside.
Even though this trip would only take about 2½ days of steady walking, more time passed than that. After the wedding, they went to Capernaum and stayed there a few days and then, when the time of Passover came, they went to Jerusalem to carry out their religious responsibility as Hebrews. That leads to today’s story.
John 2:13-17 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Let’s get a quick lesson on the history of The Temple. The First Temple- Solomon’s Temple- was built in 957 BC. But it was sacked by the Egyptians just a few decades later. Restoration was completed in 835 BC. But 135 years later, in 700BC, the Assyrians stripped much of The First Temple. It was then totally destroyed by the Babylonians 114 year later- in 586BC.
Construction on the Second Temple began 48 years later- in 538BC. It was completed 23 years later- 515BC. The structure remained much the same for almost 500 years until it was renovated and expanded by Herod the Great in 20BC. That was the version of The Temple Jesus would have entered in this story. The Second Temple was later destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.
So, Jesus goes into the temple, sees what’s going on…and pretty much loses it. He MAKES A WHIP and starts driving everybody and everything out of the temple. Cattle, sheep, doves, money changers- they are all scattering for their safety. He’s flipping tables over. He’s throwing things. This is NOT the passive, quiet, peaceful Jesus we see in other parts of the Gospels. This is the “I’m mad as heck and I’m NOT going to take it anymore” Jesus Who is committed to righting the wrongs He sees before Him.
You may have noticed, right at the end of the passage, that it mentions the disciples remembering a quote, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” They knew their Old Testament- Psalm 69:9 says, “for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” What the disciples understood Jesus’ actions to mean was that He would protect the integrity of His Father’s House, and that of His Father, with great passion and devotion- exactly what He demonstrates here.
I have had people use this story to complain about the church “selling” anything in or even near the sanctuary. “We’re just changing money in the temple” I have heard folks say about bake sales, bracelets being made available for donation or anything else that involves offering a “product” in exchange for money. And I get that. But a closer reading of this story casts the whole thing in a different light.
Notice what exactly is happening- 2 primary things are mentioned: 1. People are selling cattle, sheep and doves and 2. People are “changing” money. Let’s unpack that.
Why would people be selling livestock in the temple? The bottom line is that sacrifices needed to be made- if you were entering The Temple, you would be expected to make a sacrifice to God, as a gesture of your respect. But there was a problem. You know how, when you go to the airport, you can’t even take a bottle of water through the TSA check-in? But you BUY a bottle of water once you’re THROUGH TSA…for a higher price. So, airport vendors take advantage of the fact that, for safety reasons, I can’t carry a drink through TSA but will still want one on the other side.
It was much the same at The Temple. You were expected to bring a sacrifice to God, but you couldn’t bring one from home and carry it through the Ancient Near Eastern version of airport TSA. So, you had to buy what was offered and sanctioned by The Temple leaders. And while a larger animal- cattle or sheep- would be a “better sacrifice”, you COULD settle for doves if you couldn’t afford anything else. So, The Temple leaders especially jacked up the prices of the doves because they knew they would be the most-purchased items. They were not only totally disregarding the understanding that the sacrifices were to show respect to God and thereby desecrating The Temple- they were gouging the poor at the same time. It’s no WONDER Jesus was mad!
“Spring cleaning” is essential. It is just one of those things that we all need from time to time. What are things in your life that could benefit from a good spring cleaning? What are the areas of your life, your actions, your soul, that need to have some tables overturned and some light swept in the dark corners of? Maybe you harbor some grudges that you KNOW aren’t healthy- you just can’t seem to get past them. Maybe you have some habits or vices that are not conducive to the lifestyle Jesus is calling you to. Maybe you come here on Sundays as a strong Christian…but don’t really live the rest of the week that same way.
Remember, this story takes place in “the temple”. And in the Old Testament, the Temple is the dwelling place of God. But in the New Testament, WE are the dwelling place of God. WE are the Temple. If Jesus walked into your Temple right now, what tables would He overturn? What would He have to run out to make the Temple clean again? What would anger Him to find? What would please Him?
Do I want to please my family? Every day and twice on Sunday. Do I want to be the best pastor to this church that I can be? Absolutely. Do I want this cancer to miraculously go away? You bet. But more than anything, I want Jesus to be happy with what He finds when He walks in the Temple. More than anything, I want to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The truth is, a little “Spring Cleaning” is always in order.