This week’s blog tells the story of Jesus clearing the temple as witnessed by the Old temple fool.
I’m just the old fool who sees everything that happens. I watch and collect stories to share. Sometimes the stories are simply for delight and joy. Sometimes the stories reflect a reality. Sometimes people can’t see themselves and my stories help them to see more clearly – just like in a mirror that has fogged up. You can see an image but it isn’t clear and doesn’t reflect the reality of the person looking into the mirror.
I spend my time here in the temple. I see what happens here. The pilgrims arriving from all over the countryside: hot, tired, hungry, thirsty and poor arriving off the road with almost nothing but the clothes on the backs. Why do they do it? For some it is a deep yearning to worship God. For some it is an obligation. The wealthier ones want to see and be seen. They’re not really here for God or for worship.
That’s the thing about the temple. You probably imagine it as a place where people come to worship and some do come here to worship. But it is also the center of the theocracy. This is really God’s palace and all the people who serve in the palace function as the government of the Jewish people. Somewhere along the way, God gets lost and government takes over. That’s why some of the people come here. They want to be at the center of the power. They want to be seen in a place where they can control the people. They just want the power and this is the place to be if you want power.
As you come down through the temple ranks, people become less and less important as individuals. Most people really do come to worship God here but it becomes difficult to authentically worship God within these walls. As soon as the pilgrims from all over walk into the courtyard they are bombarded with the market: people selling the sacrificial animals; other people exchanging money so they have the proper currency for making offering inside the temple. All of this is done at a cost of course! But nobody ever says anything because that’s the cost of worshiping and all because the ones with power will it to be so.
But the temple changed today. Nobody saw it coming. Nobody saw him coming. Just a poor Jewish Rabbi with his entourage of followers. No one noticed him arriving. I noticed. I notice everything. I saw him come in. He’s very ordinary looking and yet brings a commanding presence with him. As he arrived in the temple he looked around. He wandered through the temple taking in all the sights and sounds but not speaking. I followed at a distance since I could see that something was happening. I watched his face and his body as he moved through the temple. At first it was wonder at seeing the temple and then it was disbelief as he wandered past all the market stalls. Then it was anger as he stopped and listened to a transaction.
I could see him struggling with his emotions, wondering whether he should confront what he was witnessing. Would that help or hinder? Would people be more able to worship with all the money changers and vendors out of the way or would they feel that with the familiar gone, God had abandoned them?
Finally I could see a decision cross his face. He went to the nearest table and spoke to the people there. He told the worshipers that it didn’t have to be like this. They didn’t have to buy the animals for sacrifice. He accused the vendor of cheating the worshipers. The worshipers listened closely but the vendor became angrier at the accusations. A crowd began to gather and Jesus the rabbi grabbed the nearest cage of birds and opened the door. The vendor reached out to grab Jesus but he flipped over the table between them. That’s all it took before the entire temple erupted in violence. There were animals running loose everywhere. There were people running and trying to get out of the way. There were fights going on all over the place.
That Jesus might have initiated the change but he certainly didn’t do it alone. He, along with the worshipers who remained, freed all the animals and turned the temple as we know it upside down. In the process he incurred the wrath of the temple authorities. Some of them came and tried to restore order. They accused Jesus and asked him what authority he had to turn the temple upside down. What authority did he have to change the structure of the temple institution?
He responded but quoting scripture. He beat them at their own game by reminding them that the temple is a place of prayer. It is not a market place. The authorities always claimed that they had the monopoly on worshiping but a rabbi from nowhere reflected back to them that they were not worshiping in spirit. He reflected back to them that bricks and mortars, their power and control were not authentic worship. He reflected back to them the system of oppression. In turning the temple upside down, Jesus reclaimed the worship of the people, took control of worship away from the authorities and gave it back to the ones who really wanted to worship.
I got that out of what the rabbi was saying but he also talked a bit of nonsense in the process—something about destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days. That’s a bit of an impossibility considering that it’s taken 46 years to get this far. Maybe when we look back on this in a few years maybe it will make more sense. Maybe we’ll discover that it isn’t really about the power and control, it isn’t really about the building. Maybe we’ll discover that this Jesus Rabbi died and that his death brought new life to the world, transforming something that was destroying people into something that brought life. Wouldn’t that be an amazing end to this story?
But I’m just an old fool so what do I know?