Imagine a scene with me as you read this post. Jesus is in Jerusalem with his disciples for the Jewish Passover Feast. The city is packed with other pilgrims, and many of them head to the temple for worship. Jesus and his disciples join the crowd. They enter the temple complex, as everyone does, first walking into the vast courtyards. What do they see? In the outermost courtyard, the Court of the Gentiles, they see a busy marketplace in what was supposed to be a quiet place for prayer.
If you’re looking at Jesus, you likely see him start to breathe faster, deeper. You see his face tense up. He’s about to do something. But we don’t know what he actually looked like in that moment because the story doesn’t tell us. I’m referring to the story in John 2:12-25. Look at verse 14. All John tells us is that “he found” the marketplace in the courtyard.
But what we don’t know is the look in his eye. We don’t know his tone of voice. We don’t know his body language. Then look at verse 15. We don’t know how he got hold of cords, or how he made them into a whip. Was he calm about it? Was he quiet? Were the disciples watching him, whispering to themselves, wondering, “What is he doing?” Or were they talking with him? Was he conversing with them? We don’t get those details.
What we know is that Jesus turns into a cattle rancher, swinging his makeshift whip, driving the animals in a stampede right out of the temple. There is only the most minute possibility, at least in my mind, that this stampede was calm and quiet. I just can’t see that. Instead I think it was much more likely a raucous affair. Loud. Out of control. Disorderly.
We took our grandson to the Lampeter Fair a couple weeks ago, and those animals are massive and loud. At Lampeter Fair, they were all sitting calmly in their pens, many sleeping, but when they started mooing, it was loud.
That brings another scenario to my mind. When I go running with my dog on the many farm roads in our community, there are plenty of them with pastures close up to the road, always separated by fencing. If there is an animal eating grass right up by the fence, my dog will lunge at it growling, and the animal will often jump and scatter.
Now imagine what would happen if a grown man with a whip would do that…in the Lampeter Fair, running up and down stalls whipping the animals. It could get out of hand fast. Animals could easily break right through the stalls, freaked out, mooing, baaing, braying, and the whole fair could be in a shambles in a matter of minutes.
That’s not unlike what Jesus was doing in the temple that day. Can you imagine what the animals’ owners were doing? They would likely be out of their minds, trying to find out what is going on, and seeking to get the temple guard in there to sort it out. They would be scrambling to get control of animals gone wild.
But just as the stampede is raging, Jesus turns his attention to the financial section. What he decides to do there is a move we know well. It’s a move that is used on movies and TV shows a lot. Maybe you’ve used the move yourself in your house or office. What I am talking about is the desk-clearing sweep of the arm. Usually a person pulls out this move when they have just experienced a painful betrayal. Maybe they get off a troubling phone call, slam the phone down, or toss a cell phone across the room, and with frustration and rage filling their bodies, they sweep everything off their desk or table, yelling out in anguish, as the pencils, pens, staplers, phone, and papers go flying onto the floor around them.
That’s pretty much what is going on, except in this case, Jesus upgrades the move to the sweep and the flip. You know that one too. The table flip. I can see Jesus running from table to table, sweeping and flipping, sweeping and flipping, one right after the other. I do not think we should see a calm, meek Jesus saying, “Excuse me, sir, but you shouldn’t be in here. Can you please pack up your business and leave?” while he gently turns the table on its side.
But Jesus is still not done. We read that he turns to face the aviary, the place where birds are kept. They’re doves, also used for sacrifices, probably kept in wooden cages. By now the sellers of the doves have been watching the mayhem. They see Jesus turn to them, and you can see their hands reach out to grab the cages, protecting their investment. Jesus says, “Get these out of here!” I bet they went running, and started loading cages on to carts.
Why was Jesus doing this shocking act of protest? And where was security?
As we read, Jesus makes an interesting comment as he tells the sellers of doves to get out. Look at the end of verse 16, and he says, “How dare you turn my father’s house into a market.”
This is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus refers to God the Father. What this hints at is his close relationship with his father. He knew the Father’s heart. And what grieves God’s heart, grieves Jesus’ heart. Jesus is performing a cleansing, showing his allegiance to his father, and to the purpose of his father’s temple.
It was to be a place for prayer, for worship, for hearing the word of God, for performing the religious rituals of sacrifice and offering. Yes, those animals and money-changers served a purpose, but they should not have been allowed to set up shop in the temple’s Court of the Gentiles, right in the place where the worship and prayer was supposed to happen. This was to be a place of welcome for Gentiles. It was to be a place they could pray, worship and meet with God.
Everything about this situation is a bold move on Jesus’ part. What he does, and what he says. But for a purpose of welcoming those on the outside. Does anyone care? Do people get it? Will Jesus’ courageous act make a difference?
In the next post, we’ll learn that maybe right that day, maybe years later, the disciples have a theological awareness about this event.