Wednesday, 15 August 2018


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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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The Jesus of Our Discomfort

March 4, 2018


March 4, 2018 (Third Sunday of Lent)

New Millennium Church (9 AM)

Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church (10:45 AM)


John 2:13-22

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John’s Gospel account about how Jesus drove money-changers from the Temple in Jerusalem, like that found in the other Gospels, is a captivating lesson.  One can almost visualize Jesus fashioning a whip from cords and lashing away.  The thought of him turning over tables, oxen bellowing, sheep baying, doves fluttering in their cages, and people hustling to pick up their money is amusing.  


Jesus was furious.  Now that’s a switch from the “meek and mild” image usually associated with him.  This is no “turn the other cheek” episode.  Jesus was into some serious “get your stuff out of my Father’s House and don’t bring it back” attitude!  


But when we ponder this account more deeply, it isn’t comical at all.  In fact, it produces discomfort.  Jesus ran the money-changers from the outer courtyard of the Temple.  The money-changers assembled there to help people who came to Jerusalem for Passover obtain the items needed for the Passover observance.  People needed animals without impurities.  They couldn’t easily travel across long distances, on foot, with cattle, sheep, and turtledoves.  The cattle, sheep, and turtledoves Jesus chased from the Temple courtyard had been raised and brought there so devout people could make the required offering in worship.  Jesus chased the offering away, thereby making it more difficult for Passover pilgrims to conveniently make it.  That’s not a comforting thought.


The money-changers were at the Temple because pilgrims needed to exchange Roman coins into coins that were acceptable for the Temple tax.  Roman coins were inscribed with the image of the emperor.   That made them unacceptable for paying the Temple tax.  So the money-changers were there to perform a necessary service.  When Jesus turned over their tables and chased them away, he made it more difficult for Passover pilgrims to exchange the Roman coins for coins that were acceptable for the Temple tax.  That’s not a comfortable thought, either.  


We like to think of Jesus chasing profane people from the Temple.  But the people Jesus chased and whipped were there to serve others and assist them in offering acceptable worship to God.  They were not trespassers.  They were devout people who gathered in the Court of the Gentiles to serve others.  


When we consider this account from their perspective, we find ourselves in their shoes.  After all, when we think of preachers, musicians, ushers, vocalists, sound and audio technicians, nursery workers, building custodians, parking lot attendants, accounting personnel, and other people who regularly are involved in worship efforts, we are thinking about people who, like the money-changers, are where they are because they are trying to serve, trying to help others worship, and trying to honor God by their service.  


When we ponder this lesson deeply, Jesus does not make us comfortable.  When Jesus chased away devout people who were merely trying to assist people in getting what they needed for worship, he was reprimanding people like us.  That makes the following words sting.  “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  If Jesus chased the money-changers from the Temple, would we also incur his displeasure?  Would Jesus chase us away, too, if he entered the places where we gather to worship?  This Jesus makes us uncomfortable.  


What was Jesus doing?  Why did he act so fiercely and violently toward people who were trying to make worship accessible?  What triggered such a violent response in him?  

There is a deep truth for us to learn and live somewhere in that discomfort.  Somewhere there is deep truth and a powerful lesson in the unsettling feelings and thoughts that come when we substitute ourselves for the money-changers Jesus chased from the Temple courtyard.  


We do not usually think of ourselves when we think of the money-changers.  We tend – or prefer – to think about people who are notorious oppressors.  To reach the deep truth and powerful lesson in the account of Jesus chasing money-changers from the Temple courtyard we must think of ourselves as the money-changers.  And we must think about the necessary and routine actions we take for granted as being evidence of our devotion to God.  


Here’s the deep truth:  We (faithful people) can confuse necessary and routine religious conduct with devotion to and communion with God.   Jesus chasing the money-changers from the Temple reveals that truth, but we will not understand it unless and until we see ourselves as the money-changers.  We must ponder this lesson more deeply to realize its profound truth about humanity and God and confront the ethical implications associated with it.  If and when we do so, we will begin to see how we confuse religious tasks to Godly devotion and communion.  


Humans exist for communion with God.  This is our first, highest, and ongoing purpose.  We do not exist to preach, manage religious property, and plan religious services.  We do not exist to be evangelists, vocalists, custodians, nursery workers, musicians, and book-keepers.  Yet, we customarily think of these and other routine and necessary tasks when we think about our relationship with God.  


By doing so, we forget or ignore what Jesus told the Samaritan woman he encountered at Jacob’s Well.  God is Spirit.  We who worship God do so in spirit (see, John 4:23-24).  The tasks we associate with religious activity are not God.  They are not substitutes for God.  We must never confuse them with communion with God, other persons, and the rest of creation.  This deep theological truth is often missed when we ponder the lesson about Jesus chasing money-changers from the Temple courtyard.


The ethical implications of that truth are also challenging.  The money-changers had been granted access to the Temple courtyard by religious authorities.  While the entire Temple compound was considered holy, it was viewed as increasingly holy the farther one progressed toward its center.  The outermost courtyard of the Temple site was the Court of the Gentiles.  Non-Jews were permitted to gather only in that area for prayer and worship, but banned from going further onto the Temple grounds on under penalty of death.  Signs were posted in Greek and Latin warning Gentiles – including Roman citizens – to not pass beyond the Court of the Gentiles.  


Because religious tradition banned Gentiles from entering the Temple, the Court of the Gentiles was where they were allowed to pray, worship, and make offerings to God.  What was supposed to be their place for prayer had become, with religious approval, the site of a religiously-permitted currency exchange and a stockyard.  Discrimination based on ethnic privilege had become so deeply intertwined with religious-based commercialism that the religious authorities considered the stockyard and moneychangers evidence of their reverence for and devotion to God.  Ouch!  


Think of the ways religious people have continued the moral and ethical errors Jesus exposed when he chased the money-changers from the Temple.  We have banned women, single persons, LGBTQ persons, persons who have been convicted for committing crimes, persons who have impairments, and other unflavored persons from religious fellowship and consideration for leadership,   


We don’t call our religious versions of apartheid and Jim Crow segregation “Court of the Gentiles,” but they operate the same way.  The discriminatory “implementation policy” recommendation that accompanied the CBF Illumination Project is a recent example.  Married LGBTQ followers of Jesus will not be hired as mission field personnel nor hired for selected leadership positions within CBF Global.  This is a “Court of the Gentiles” policy.  Religious-based refusals to ordain women as deacons and pastors reveal our affinity for “Court of the Gentiles” thinking that faithful people have normalized in the name of devotion to God.       


The response by Jesus does not make us comfortable when we view ourselves as the money-changers.  It shouldn’t make us comfortable.  It should make us repentant.  It should move us to confess the ways we treat religious routine as proof of our devotion to God without recognizing how our routine often exposes how much our devotion to God has been compromised by things such as privilege, commercialism, and visions of empire.  


If the response of Jesus makes us uncomfortable that is a good thing.  We will not engage in the constant process of repentance unless and until the Spirit alerts us to the disconnect between our devotion to religious routine and devotion to and communion with God.  It requires drastic action similar to what Jesus did to alert us about that disconnect.  Without such drastic action, we simply carry on with our religious routines.  


Finally, this lesson challenges the ways we tend to substitute attendance, buildings, and cash – what a wise pastoral leader has termed “the ABCs” of institutional religion, with worship.  When Jesus challenged the alarmed religious leaders who demanded to know how he was authorized to denounce,  condemn, and expel the money-changers those leaders had permitted to operate in the Court of the Gentiles, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).  The authorities thought Jesus referred to Herod’s Temple because they, like so many others across centuries and today, identify religious buildings with where worship happens.  


Jesus wasn’t referring to the Temple begun by Herod the Great.  He understood that God is worshiped in our lives and hearts, not in our houses of religion.  We are temples where God is either worshiped or profaned.  We are the shrines where God is either honored or mocked.  We are the places where God’s will is recognized or disregarded, God’s presence is either welcomed or shunned, and God’s love and sovereignty is either embraced or defied.  

It is not comfortable to ponder that this truth is not understood and obeyed by religious people now just as it was not understood and obeyed when Jesus spoke those words.  Jesus showed us that a temple looks like a life, not a building complex.  


We can learn a great deal from Jesus and the money-changers by substituting ourselves and our religious routines for the money-changers.  We can learn a great deal from Jesus and worship by substituting ourselves for Herod’s Temple.  What we learn does not make us comfortable.  That is a good thing. It means Jesus has confronted us with the moral imperative to more deeply and truly know God, worship God, and honor God.


This discomfort does not harm or injure our faith.  It is, like the discomfort of childbirth, the way God brings us into new and deeper worship and communion with God, new and deeper communion with others, and new and deeper communion with the creation.  


For that discomfort we say, “Ouch.”  Then we say “Hallelujah!”   “Ouch” and “Hallelujah” are integral to knowing and worshiping God and living in communion with God, other persons, and the rest of the creation.




©Wendell Griffen, 2018