Weekly Sermon (5)

Sermon – March 3, 2024

A ‘ruckus’ in the Temple…

March 3, 2024

Scripture: John 2:13-22 – shared in narrative form

As I have done a number of times in the past, I would like to share our gospel lesson in the form of a story, holding close to the biblical text, but allowing my baptized imagination free reign, in order to try to get a sense of what was really going on in the middle of one of our best-known bible stories. Today’s passage from the second chapter of John tells of the time Jesus went into the Temple and drove out the moneychangers and all the sellers of sacrificial sheep, doves, and goats. It is a story I am sure we remember, but one which might have more to offer us if we look closely at what the original story tellers were trying to share. So, without further ado, here is the story of a few imaginary witnesses of the events of that morning…


Cornelius and his family were so joyous and expectant as the day finally arrived. The air was clean and clear, and all was in place for their final ascent up Mount Moriah and into the city of Jerusalem, site of the Temple of God, center of Jewish faith and life. Cornelius and his wife Ruth were not Jewish by birth or tradition, but had accepted the God of the Jews and began to follow in Jewish ways after befriending some Jews who lived near them over on the coast. Many Jews had scattered all across the known world over the past few centuries and formed small communities of the faithful wherever they settled.

The Jewish scriptures spoke of a God of love, and of a God who called all of humanity into loving relationship, and as such, gentile believers were welcomed into these far-flung Jewish communities. And while they were not full-fledged Jews, Cornelius and Ruth felt strangely drawn to their Jewish friends and found their ways and their beliefs very appealing…so much so that they decided to raise their two children believing in their newly adopted faith tradition. And they were not alone, as many other gentiles had adopted Yahweh as their God as well, after coming into contact with the small Jewish communities who appeared throughout these outer territories beginning some six hundred years earlier after the fall of the First Hebrew Temple during the Babylonian conquest and exile in 586 B.C. at the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Throughout the past six centuries, the city of Jerusalem had remained sacred to all of the Jews. With the ascension of the Persian King Cyrus the Great some 50 years after their exile had begun the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland and promptly began construction of the Second Temple on top of the ruins of the first. Since that time until the present day, Jews had made pilgrimages to the Holy City to offer sacrifices in the Temple and to satisfy a deep longing within for the return of Israel to prominence and power. Many Gentile believers found a pilgrimage to Jerusalem a compelling desire as well, and it was this journey for which Cornelius and Ruth had long prepared and which had now finally arrived.

The climb up the road to the top was long and arduous and it was after mid-day when Cornelius and his family finally were able to gaze upon the magnificence of Jerusalem and the awesome spectacle of the Holy Temple. Their Jewish friends back home had carefully schooled them on proper etiquette and protocol when entering the Temple, as offenses or breaches of such were punished very severely. Some fifty years earlier the Jewish puppet-king Herod the Great had greatly renovated and expanded the Temple including a large outer courtyard named the Court of the Gentiles specifically to allow non-Jewish believers to come to worship and offer sacrifices as well.  And while the gentiles were specifically forbidden upon threat of death to ascend to the other ‘Jewish-only’ levels of the Temple, or to enter into the Holy of Holies at the very top, the Court of the Gentiles and adjoining covered porches served well to allow them to at least draw near to their adopted God and to feel a part of all the pageant and mystery.

Of course, the Temple also had become quite a draw as an object of tourism, and the Jewish Authorities drew a hefty profit from all of the commerce which had arisen to meet this need, as well as the need for the provision of sacrificial animals for those wishing to offer up a sacrifice but not wanting to carry it along on their long journey to Jerusalem.  Outside of the Temple there had long been stalls and small businesses set up seeking to capitalize on this trade, as well as money changers who exchanged foreign Roman currency which was forbidden near the Temple into Hebrew Shekels, which could then be used to purchase sacrificial animals.

And while this had been the established and accepted practice for a long time, as well as a way to allow those less fortunate to offer a sacrifice, lately things had changed greatly, as Cornelius and Ruth were about to find out. Their friends had told them of the opportunity to purchase a sacrificial animal and of the doves which were less expensive and readily available. And so, as Cornelius drew near to the Temple, he looked for such a vendor, clutching his meager savings in his hand.  But all he saw outside of the Temple were souvenir stands and food vendors hawking their wares. Going up to someone who looked like they might know, Cornelius asked where he might purchase a sacrificial dove.

‘Doves?  They are all inside now’, the man replied, ‘When you first enter, there, in the Court of the Gentiles’. Surprised at the reply but grateful for the information, Cornelius began to turn away from the one who had offered his assistance. But suddenly remembering his friend’s instructions regarding Roman currency he turned back to the stranger and said, ‘Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you again, but don’t I need to exchange my currency before entering into the Temple?’  ‘No you do not’, replied the stranger, ‘they do everything on the inside now, ever since Caiaphas changed the Court of the Gentiles into a market for such things. It seemed strange to many of us, but the word on the street is that the authorities are now able to exact a much higher tax on all of the commerce, now that it is within the Temple walls.’

A bit confused, but at least knowing now what he had to do, Cornelius thanked the stranger and after gathering his family together they began to ascend the steps up to the lowest level of the Temple. As they drew nearer there was a loud and raucous noise that met their ears. At first, they thought something might be wrong but upon entering the Temple they found themselves in the middle of a raucous bazaar, complete with people shouting and running around trying to sell whatever they had to all who entered there. Along the edges of the courtyard and next to the covered porches there were multiple stalls set up with cows and goats for sale as well as sheep and every size and color of dove imaginable. And off to the side as they first entered were the tables of the money changers, busily exchanging coins of every stripe and denomination to allow the pilgrims to go off and make their purchases.

Cornelius was quite confused with it all and was not sure what to make of it. It seemed so contrary to the reverent picture of the Temple that had been painted for him by his friends back home.  He looked around and could see no place where anyone might actually be able to worship, so noisy and chaotic was the whole area. But he knew he at least needed to exchange his Roman coins for acceptable Hebrew currency, so he shepherded his family over to the table of one of the money changers. Leaning close he shouted above the din that he wished to purchase a dove to sacrifice and needed to change his money in order to do so. The man seated at the little table looked at the money in Cornelius’ hand and said to him, ‘Not with that you won’t!’  ‘What do you mean?’, Cornelius asked him, ‘Can I not exchange these coins for Shekels here?’  ‘Yes you can’, the man replied, ‘But the exchange rate for Roman coins is so high that the little bit I can give you in return will not be sufficient to buy even a sickly dove!  You will need to come up with a lot more than that if you want to buy anything in this market!’

Looking sadly at his wife who was now totally embarrassed, Cornelius gathered his family close and moved off to one corner, unsure of what to do and not knowing where he might go to at least offer a simple prayer, now that they were finally here. He was ashamed that he would not be able to offer even the simplest of sacrifices in thanksgiving to this God he and his family had come to love and to trust in so deeply…it just did not make sense to him…how could his friends back home have been so misinformed…what was he going to do?

Just then there arose some very loud shouting near the entrance to the Temple. A man was there who seemed fully intent on destroying the place, as he went from table to table overturning them all and scattering coins every which way.  Then he grabbed some strips of leather hanging from one of the stalls and quickly braided them into a whip with which he proceeded to go after all of the animals who were now milling about. Shouting and brandishing the whip he proceeded to drive them towards the doors of the Temple, shouting at the vendors and virtually sending the animals stampeding towards the openings and down the Temple steps.

‘Get all of these things out of here’, the man shouted. ‘You have made my Father’s house into a den of thieves; this is not and never was intended to be a marketplace, out all of you!’  And as he continued to turn the place upside down and as vendors and animals scattered throughout the courtyard, Cornelius and his family hovered over in the corner…surprised but strangely unafraid at this sudden intrusion by this wild and impassioned man.

As the last few vendors finally made their way out of the courtyard a quiet stillness settled over the whole interior of the Temple. The man who had caused all the turmoil just stood there, surrounded by what seemed to be his followers, amid the broken stalls and the scattered coins. However, the confusion had attracted the attention of the Temple Authorities who had been relaxing up in the higher courts at the time. And now, as they made their way down the steps to the courtyard level a deep sense of foreboding seemed to take over.  Obviously extremely upset with this seemingly wild and crazed man they approached him with clenched fists and threatening postures.

Cornelius and Ruth held their children close as the Priests approached the man.  ‘What do you think you are doing Jesus?’ they almost spat in his face, ‘What right do you have to destroy all that was here? Who do you think you are, do you not know that this marketplace was set up specifically inside of this courtyard by the High Priest in order to permit the easy exchange of money and purchase of sacrificial animals? And that Caiaphas did this in order to allow foreigners to come in and worship our God? This is none of your business, what right do you think you have? Go back to Nazareth where you belong!’

Looking at them all with a calmness that quite disarmed them Jesus replied, ‘Tear down this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it back up.’ Surprised at his bravado and quite indignantly they replied, ‘Three days!  It took forty-six years to get this Temple into the glorious state it is now and you claim you could do it all over in just three days?’

But Jesus just stood there looking at them, fully unnerving them with his strong and confident air and his determined look.  Slowly they turned away, still clenching their fists and seething within…now determined to find a way to destroy this beggarly troublemaker who seemed intent on desecrating everything they valued as holy. And, as they filed away, back up the steps to the upper levels of the Temple, Jesus and his followers remained there, now all alone with Cornelius and his little family.

Turning and looking at the humble little man it was almost as if Jesus could see through all of the hassle and struggle the day had been for the little family who had only wanted to come and offer thanks to their adopted God. Crossing the courtyard and approaching them, Jesus looked deeply into the eyes of both Ruth and Cornelius. ‘Welcome my friends, welcome to my Father’s house’, he said, ‘Please know you are always welcome to come in and to worship within these walls. Your journey and your faithful hearts are all the sacrifice the Father wants from you. Know that you are deeply loved and will be forever blessed for your faithfulness…may the Lord keep you safe from all harm…go, and be blessed.’

And then, without another word Jesus and his followers turned and left the Temple, leaving Cornelius and his family all alone there in the quiet. Not really understanding, but knowing deep within that they had just witnessed something gracious and miraculous, Cornelius looked at his wife and in that moment they both knew that their pilgrimage was complete.  They had drawn near to God and somehow…they knew they had found him. Looking around one last time they began to make their way out of the Temple, ready to start the long journey back home. This is the gospel of our Lord…thanks be to God.


After listening to this story…I guess I have just a few questions…

First of all, why? Why did Jesus feel the need to go into the Temple that morning? And why did he cause such a ruckus? Surely he knew that while his actions might gain a few radical followers, they would totally inflame the passions of others against him. On its face, it was not a winning promotional strategy!

Which makes me wonder, was it all really only about ‘respecting’ a building that was important and central to the Jewish faith…but still just a building? Now I am not downplaying the importance of the Temple to the Jewish faith…a devotion by the way that is as passionate and all consuming still today. But I think there was more to the reasons behind why Jesus did what he did, and it was not just about reverence for or devotion to the Temple building.

And I say that because I think there is a similar, and equally unhealthy devotion metaphorically to the ‘Temple’ of our Christian faith today. Meaning, that there is a somewhat confusing set of perceptions of what the Christian Church of today is supposed to be about, and a full set of beliefs, understandings, and practices that, were Jesus to visit today, might also be thrown out with fury and passion…really!

And I say that, because it seems to me that a large swath of Christian practice today suffers from the same problem as did those who were working the Temple Market that day. Namely, that there is a profound disconnect between who most people feel God is and what the gospels are all about…and…what our actual calling as followers of Jesus is.

I believe Jesus did what he did that morning because the Temple was supposed to be the house of God, the dwelling place of the one he called his ‘father’. The Temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be a place where people…both Jews as well as others seeking to find the God of the Hebrew faith could go and experience the holiness that comes with drawing near to God. Jesus was upset because he saw that the people’s understanding of who God actually was, and what they should be seeking after had become severely distorted, even to the point of being unrecognizable!

So…along those same lines, where or what is the ‘Temple of our faith’ today? What does it look like? Do we have, or know of a central storeroom of the most cherished of our beliefs…a location where we too can keep the treasures of our faith history? Do we have a ‘holy place’ so to speak where we know God is pleased to dwell?

From the beginning, Christian faith was best lived out as a movement, as the activity of believers, and not as an institutional force in society. When the Roman Emperor Constantine first saw the power and passion of the Christian faith, he realized that if he were to make it the official ‘State’ religion, then he could hold sway over it as an institution. And our faith history from that time forward has been far less holy, and far more powerless in terms of the righteousness and redemptive goodness the gospels were designed to produce.

Small gatherings of any who truly seek to follow after and imitate the figure of Jesus, of those who try their best to live humbly within their means and to live continually in the service of others is not really what the Contemporary Christian Church is best known for. Rather it seems that far too often, and far more commonly, today’s church of our faith is more and more exercising its strength and power as an institution seeking primarily to fashion the beliefs of and exert control over its followers, seeking to establish itself as the newest, biggest, best, and most powerful force in contemporary life. And that…that is why Jesus was so upset that day…and why I believe he still grieves so deeply today.

For a sacrifice that was of such a magnitude just to teach us of the depth of God’s love, a cross to which Jesus went willingly to surrender his life, a three year ministry spent trying to share that the real answer…of learning to love one another as we ourselves were first loved…all of that…all of that which truly is the treasure of our faith is now all but ignored and trashed by those who would wield power and control in the pursuit of what much of the church has become.


But not here…not here, where we are really just a strange little movement of grace that truly is not in touch with our ‘institutional roots’…a church that many in our faith would say is profoundly out of touch with what we are supposed to be doing…a church that has actually been accused in the past as being a collection of ‘totally un-saved people’, whatever that means.

I believe that we know two very important things. Two things that allow us to keep walking towards the pleasure of our Lord.

The first of these, is that I believe we have a real sense of the true nature of our God…a God who loves each and everyone of those he has created, a God who by the Holy Spirit seeks to bring all of humanity into an awareness of the goodness to be found in loving one another, and a God who loved each one of us so deeply, that he was willing to come to us in human form to take on our worst…so that we might learn of the power of forgiving love. A God who shows up before our very eyes in the loving acts we each extend towards one another.

And the second thing we know, the second thing that sets us apart from the present and too often oppressive ‘institution of our faith’…is that we are coming to know ourselves. Learning that humility, that being honest with oneself, is not weakness at all, but rather the starting point where a true community of faith can be the strongest force for good, for hope, and for a future that includes a provision for peace.

So yes we have hope…and yes we know the goodness and power of love, and the grace of our God, who it turns out is pleased to call this small ragamuffin little church his own.

\Let us not be blindsided like Cornelius was that day in the Temple…for we have seen, in fact we hear everyday of those who claim the power and righteous purpose of our Lord, but refuse to do anything whatsoever ‘unto the least of these’

Let us passionately continue to insist and to demonstrate that the church of our Lord Jesus, is not ‘what’, but rather ‘who’ we are called to be…

…for tho’ we are small, we are fierce in our love for one another…and, in all our work towards a brighter day.


I must offer gratitude for some of the inspiration for the opening story which I received from Fr. John A. Peck’s wonderful reflection titled, “Cleansing the Court of the Gentiles”, found as a resource on Textweek, dated Feb 8, 2014

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