March 4, 2018

The Third Sunday in Lent

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. John 2:13-22

 

The most remarkable aspect of this story is the verse that is probably least noticed. It appears to be merely an afterthought appended at a much later date: “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this.”

What actually captures our attention is the unexpected violence of Jesus’ actions. His outburst seems out of character — a rare moment of exception, when anger gets the best of him. And we wonder then what to make of this and how to justify this very physical manifestation of his fury. Our focus often remains fixed on the particulars of his reaction and what it was about these mundane transactions that caused his eruption. It’s easy to imagine grounds for complaint or postulate some kind of injustice whenever business is negotiated. But Jesus’ violence should not be taken as a form of social protest; it was, quite differently, a moment of revelation.

Violence is a mode of communication. It happens when “I want to say something to you that really cannot be said to you, that you are not in a position to hear, and when, yet, I insist that you are going to hear it.” More pithily, violence declares the “alienation of what is to be from what is.” Jesus’ actions disrupted not just the trade that was happening that day; they were his declaration that the very logic on which any transactions depend have no place in the economy of God. In the temple there could be no room for any manner of quid pro quo. Jesus was not just overturning tables. He was “overthrowing everything” — even the very “way in which God will create the future… in utter contradiction of every standing order.” And this violence is as good a description of resurrection as we can get.

All quotations from Robert Jenson: Essays in the Theology of Culture

 

The Rev. Peter T. Vanderveen
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

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