John 2:13-25 – Jesus Clears the Temple Courts
When Jesus was a boy, according to the Gospel of Luke, He travelled to Jerusalem with His parents for the Festival of the Passover. Many Jews would come to Jerusalem, even from outside Judea, for one of the big festivals: Passover, Tabernacles or Pentecost, and Jerusalem would be heaving with people, sort of like when the crowds spill out of the Principality Stadium after a rugby match. Very much the opposite of how things look now. But this was back in the day when there were still crowds, and in such a crowd and in a culture where everyone looks after each other’s kids (if only!), Jesus’ parents had travelled away from Jerusalem for a whole day before they notice that Jesus is nowhere to be found. We know how they travel back and eventually find Him in the temple , sitting among the teachers, asking questions, listening and, it seems, providing a few answers of His own. When Mary vents her anxiety and frustration, Jesus seems surprised that she does not know He had to be in His Father’s house (or as the King James Version puts it: …about His Father’s business), but nevertheless, Jesus returns with them to Nazareth, and “was obedient to them….. and grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
Now, nearly 20 years later, Jesus is back at the Temple. He would have been around 30 years old, the age when a man was of age and could take on his father’s business in the Jewish culture. It was also the age at which those people who had the full Jewish education would have reached such a state of wisdom that they “had authority” – that is, they had learned enough to be able to teach and to interpret scripture afresh. We hear in other places that Jesus “taught as one having authority” (Mk 1:22; Mt 7:29).
Back in His Father’s house, Jesus picks up a whip and begins to drive out the sacrificial animals and overturn the tables of the money changers, who changed people’s coins into the fine silver required for the temple tax (for a small fee, of course). And the religious leaders are once again astonished and ask Him for a sign to prove His authority.
Jesus may be ‘against’ some of their practices, but in His actions there is far more than a protest against the status quo and the way religious matters become objects of trade. His actions and demeanour in the temple serve to establish Jesus’ authority as the Son of God, and the question of His authority tells us that this does not go unnoticed. Jesus has returned to the temple, no longer a young student, but a mature teacher with authority. But perhaps it’s even more than that?
Within a tradition that use the phrase ‘having authority’ for rabbis with enough wisdom and experience to have disciples of their own and to offer fresh perspectives on the Hebrew bible, the statement made by the Jews gives away the underlying question among these Jewish leaders, still spiritually on the fence. It is never expressed in so many words, but is still there: Are you the One? And if you are, give us a clear sign so we know whether to follow.
The ultimate sign Jesus promises them, the tearing down and building up again of the temple in 3 days, would have to wait another 3 years but in the meantime, Jesus joins the crowds in Jerusalem while the Festival is still at its peak. We read that He performs signs and that people believed in Him, yet there is a sense that this is early days and that perhaps this belief is a bit more of a sensation seeking ‘wow’ than a salvation seeking ‘worship’. In either event, Jesus doesn’t entrust Himself to them because He knows their hearts.
Tomorrow, we will meet one of the Jewish leaders on the fence, who takes his questions and observations to Jesus. Will he decide what side of the fence to come down on? Will he have a fresh perspective on faith? Will he see the Light?
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- Holy Spirit