Lori and I love going to the movies. There is something fun about heading to the theater, and getting a bag of popcorn, and settling in to a really, really good story. And I’ve got to tell you, once the theaters put those recliners in, you know, the ones with the heated seats…I’m pretty sure I could just live in there.
But one of the best parts of going to a movie, is the previews. Now, I’m not talking about the pre-shows, that have all the ads. (Ads in movie theaters. Ick.) No, I’m talking about the actual previews of upcoming movies. You know, the trailers that are shown before the feature. I love the previews. In fact, I’ve always said if they would just schedule a showing that was nothing but trailers of upcoming films, I’d probably go to see it!
Lori and I have a kind of a code. A trailer plays, and we look kind of sidewise at each other. And either it’s a very subtle nod (Oh yeah, we’ll see that!)…a very subtle shake (No chance) …or a “whatever.” Which roughly translates to “let’s let the boys see it first and see what they think.”
Our Gospel reading today is a preview…it is a trailer. In this vivid, dynamic action sequence, Jesus is giving his followers a sneak peek into what their future together holds. And spoiler alert: the future for God’s people is going to look very different than their past.
In today’s story, Jesus goes to the temple, and when he gets there, there were people gathered outside the temple, in the outer courtyard, who were selling cattle, and sheep, and doves. And there were tables, with people changing money, from one currency to another. It probably felt like a giant flea market. Busy…crowded… chaotic…full of noise, and people.
And Jesus…well… he walks in to this area, and he looks around, and he frowns, and then he kind of loses it. He goes over to one of the tables and grabs some rope and starts using it like a whip and drives away those who were selling the animals. He goes to the money changers and dumps out their buckets of money and grabs their tables and throws them. He then shouts “Take these things out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
What’s a little bit odd about our story is that having these people selling things outside of the temple…having this market…is not a new thing. Every year, vendors would set themselves up outside of the temple. And Jesus knew this. I mean after all; Jesus grew up in the Jewish religious tradition. He was a Rabbi! He’d been to the temple many, many times. It’s not like he’d never seen this before. So why did Jesus get all worked up about it today?
To understand this, it might first be helpful to understand why the people were selling things at the temple in the first place.
An important part of the Jewish worship practice at the time was the act of the sacrifice. When people would come to the temple at the time of the Passover, it was expected that they would bring with them a living sacrifice…an animal that would be killed. These animals were a living penance…they were a way for the individual to pay for the things they had done wrong. They would give a sacrifice, in hope that their sins would be forgiven.
Not everyone had their own animals to bring, however, and so outside of the temple, people could purchase these animals…and because people came from far and wide, there were money changers there, who would change funds from whatever the person’s local currency was, to the currency they could use at the temple.
You see, the “trade” that was going on outside of the temple that day was not only legitimate, it was necessary. If the livestock sellers and the money changers were not there, people could not make their sacrifice.
Now there have been a lot of theories as to why Jesus pulled out the whips and drove away the money changers and vendors that day.
- Some think it was because these vendors and money changers were cheating the poor…overcharging for their services.
- Some think it’s because he didn’t like the temple becoming a business.
Both of these things are probably true. But there is something else going on here that is very important. In his actions, Jesus was showing a preview of things yet to come. He was providing a look ahead…a trailer, if you will. It is a snapshot of the future. In his actions, Jesus is making this incredible, bold statement about the nature of sin, and sacrifice, and forgiveness.
Jesus is not simply challenging the vendors and the moneychangers…Jesus is challenging the whole sacrificial system. He is challenging a basic and important tenet of the faith.
The system, thousands of years of religious tradition, taught that to receive forgiveness and to be made right with God, required following the laws and then making a sacrifice to pay for the laws that had been broken. The system said that somebody had to pay for sins. Blood needed to be spilt.
Jesus said that when the temple would be destroyed, he would raise it up in 3 days. He wan’t talking about the actual, physical temple building. He was referring, of course, to his death, and then 3 days later, his resurrection. His death and resurrection would raise up a whole new system, operating not on sacrifice, but on grace.
That’s why Jesus is called the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus is saying that you no longer need to sacrifice…because he would become the sacrifice.
Dr. David Lose has written that in this story, Jesus proclaims “…the truth is that God is interacting with God’s people in a new way; in a way that no longer requires sacrifice at the temple because Jesus, the lamb of God, has come not only as the last sacrifice…but also to mediate and make accessible God’s unimaginable and unexpected grace.”
Jesus is saying that the way of providing sacrifice to somehow try and restore your relationship with God is a thing of the past. Something new, and beautiful, is coming.
In that temple courtyard, Jesus is staking his claim on the future, and it is a claim that will ultimately cost him his life. It was a challenge to the religious leaders…and it was a challenge, again, to the systems of the time.
And if you have done any reading in systems theory, then you know that systems, when thrown off balance, will always strive to return to normal…to return to equalibrium.
Pastor Cindy Halverson, our visitation pastor here at Trinity until last October used to talk about this kind of systems change. She has this image that I love. She would say that systems are like a child’s mobile…you know, the kind that hangs above a crib and slowly turns…to hypnotize children into falling asleep? (Well, at least that’s what I’d hoped for our boys.)
Pastor Cindy said that systems of any kind…religious…political… social…are like a mobile that hangs in balance. But if one, or two of the strings on a mobile are cut? The balance changes…and everything is off kilter.
Systems hate that. They resist change. And they will do whatever is necessary to return to balance.
In our Gospel story, Jesus is cutting a major string within the religious and political system of the time. The string of the sacrificial system.
And the system wasn’t happy.
And the system pushed back against Jesus…it pushed back all the way to the cross. But Jesus cut that string, because he knew why he was there, and he understood the cost. And he had faith in what would happen, 3 days after his crucifixion.
Today, in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us this trailer…this preview of this new equilibrium:
You can never do enough…sacrifice enough…give enough…even love enough…to earn God’s love. You can’t. But the Good News…the literal Good News is…you don’t have to. Because of Jesus, and Jesus’ love…the string is cut, and God’s grace comes to you without your having to earn it.
Jesus changed the system. And he continues to do so. Every single day. Again and again. For you.
Remember this story. Hang on to this trailer. Have faith in what God can do in just 3 days. This story is a peek of this new equilibrium, this great love of God, through Jesus.
But God does not stop with the preview. Because of what God does, we experience the feature. We live the full story. The story of Jesus love, a love that is…and that is to come. And it is for you.
Thanks be to God!