Understanding God's View of Justice
based on John 2:13-22
by Carolyn Bingham
I have a kitty cat named Prissy. She has long hair. She is black and orange on top and
white underneath. She is not all that bright, but she has a lot to say about what happens
at my house. I order special cat food over the Internet. Prissy tells me when to go to
bed, and then she sleeps on me. I brush her and pet her and let her curl up in my lap. But
sometimes I throw a wrench in things. One warm lovely day this week I put her outside. I
know it is good for my sedentary little feline to get some fresh air and sunshine and to
have the opportunity to chase little critters. Wouldnt you think she would
appreciate my thoughtfulness? Wouldnt you expect her to joyously embrace the great
outdoors? Youre probably already running ahead of me here. Prissy was not impressed.
As far as she was concerned, I had disrupted her happy life. I upset her little applecart.
I was totally outrageous. What right did I have telling her she needed to be more than a
couch kitty? Well, you may think Prissy needs to broaden her horizons. (Actually, you
probably think I need to get a life.) I am majoring on minor issues. Because like my cat,
I sometimes need a wake-up call. I get in a rut. I find myself doing things that have no
valuesometimes I even find myself doing things I should not do at all. I forget what
it is Im really supposed to be doing. You do it too. And so did those guys who
worked at the temple in first century Jerusalem. Listen to happened to them:
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple
he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at
their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen,
out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their
tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, Take these things away; you shall
not make my Fathers house a house of trade. His disciples remembered that it
was written, Zeal for thy house will consume me. The Jews then said to him,
What sign have you to show us for doing this? Jesus answered them, Destroy
this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said, It
has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?
But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the
word which Jesus had spoken.
You have to understand that this started out as a normal day for these
fellows. Passover was a busy time of year—like Christmas is for us. People came
to the city of Jerusalem from all over. They came to the temple to offer
sacrifices and pay monetary offerings throughout the year, but during Passover,
everyone came at the same time. Just imagine what it would be like for you today
if you needed to go to Jerusalem to offer up a little lamb as a sacrifice.
Here in America, we would need to fly to get there. First, you would go
to the pet store and by a pet carrier. Then you would go to a farmer and
purchase a lamb, unless you raised sheep yourself. You might need to go see Perk
to get a tranquilizer for the poor little thing—flying is pretty stressful for
some animals. You would buy plane tickets for every member of your family and
pay a fee for the lamb. You’d have to be sure that your travel agent got you a
hotel room that allowed animals. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could buy your
lamb when you got there? Especially if you could get it right at the temple.
Well, obviously, our concerns are not identical to the problems of a family in
first century Israel. But the conclusion is the same. It was difficult to travel
a long distance with your family. Dealing with the lamb made it even more
complicated. Part of the point of sacrificing this perfect little animal was
that you had brought it into the family and treated it as a pet. The sacrifice
had an emotional component, as well as financial. But traveling all the way from
your home with the lamb, and then having the kids squalling about it… Well, as
you can imagine, it was a lot easier to buy your lamb when you got to the
temple. There were merchants right in the temple, ready to help you out with
“all your sacrificial animals. Just step right up.”
Even the half-shekel temple tax that every adult man must pay required
assistance from the money-changers. If you have ever crossed the border from one
country to another, you have been to a money-changer. Canadian stores expect you
to pay for merchandise with Canadian dollars.. In England youll need pounds. At
the temple, you needed shekels.
But couldn’t the priests have taken the other coins and changed them later?
Well, there’s a little more to this than currency exchange. You see Greek and
Roman coins had pictures of gods on them. Even Caesar was believed to be a god.
You couldn’t take a coin with the image of an idol into the temple. You had to
exchange it for a more appropriate coin and, of course, you paid a fee for that
privilege. That’s what money-changers did. As far as we know, this was an
ordinary day at the temple. It’s true that the selling of animals and exchange
of coins exploited the people. But this was nothing new. It was business as
usual. So what was Jesus all upset about? Why did he get so angry? It looks to
me like it was same-o same-o. The merchants and money-changers had been doing
business at the temple for some years. Everyone knew how the system worked.
There is no indication that anyone was complaining. People knew that was just
how things were.
It’s always annoying when you know you are being taken advantage of, but
we’ve all learned to tolerate a certain amount of exploitation. We buy Christmas
presents and Easter eggs and scary costumes. Our purchases line the pockets of
the storeowners and manufacturers. Nowadays, the stores prefer that we pay them
with a plastic credit card, and we pay for the privilege of spending our money.
We’re used to that stuff. So, what’s the big deal? Why did Jesus get so mad?
When I read this story, I can’t help but think of the sixties. I was a teenager
in the sixties. We talked a lot about the evils of “the establishment.” It was
clear to the young people of America that the world hadn’t turned out right and
we wanted to do something about it. We championed the causes of social
concerns—poverty, racial prejudice, unjust war, gender inequality. We were angry
that big business and big government and even big churches had failed the poor,
the disenfranchised, the powerless. Demonstrations were held, we burned flags
and brassieres, we marched on Washington. (I confess I’m using the word “we” in
the most general sense.) Mostly, we were frustrated. Of course, a lot dropping
out and drugging out occurred. But to start with, idealistic young people found
themselves coming to grips with a very fallen world—and we were angry. It was a
world that needed fixing. But no matter how many ideals were lifted up, I don’t
think anyone ever really expected to be able to completely fix that broken
world—no one but God could do that. And since we didn’t see any recent evidence
that He was mending our world, and some people claimed that, for all practical
purposes, He was dead, we mostly just got mad.
The scene at the temple, with Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers and
driving out the animalswell, it looks a lot like one of those sixties kinds of
experiences. Just like in the sixties, the establishment people didnt have a clue
what was really wrong. They had gotten used to things being the way they were. It was
Then all of a sudden, here comes this Jesus guy, and he starts tearing things up. Who
does this character think he is? When the Jews at the temple asked him to show them a
sign, they werent asking for one of his miracles. Maybe they didnt even know
he could do miracles. After all, they hadnt seen his picture on CNN. They wanted to
know what kind of authority this man had to act like Jesus was acting. Probably the Jews
sensed that Jesus was acting like a person in authoritybut who. Basically, they were
saying, We want to see some I.D.
It always seems to me that Jesus never answered anyone the way youd expect him
to. He often left people trying to figure him out. Maybe thats not because he wanted
to be mysterious, but because our own thinking is so different from the way God thinks
that Jesus words just seem mysterious. Anyway, Jesus told them if they destroy this
temple, he will raise it up in three days. If you take his words the way the Jews did,
that sounds ludicrous. But in fact, Jesus had a different temple in mind. He was referring
to his own body. They didnt know it, but he was saying, Kill me, and Ill
rise again. This is why I am hereIm the Messiah and thats what I came
for. My death and resurrectionthats my I.D. Thats why I have a right to
throw the money-changers out. Of course, these guys wouldnt have recognized
Jesus mission as that of Messiah. He did not even remotely resemble their idea of
Messiah. The Jews wanted a Messiah-kingnot a sacrificial lamb. They wouldnt
recognize the Messiah if they saw him. And they did, in fact, see him.
Jesus knew they wouldnt understand his words to them. But thats really the
point. They didnt get it. They didnt know who Jesus was and they didnt
know what kind of Messiah to expect. You know, I have to tell you that this particular
picture of Jesus is one that Im not very comfortable with. He was acting like a
sixties kind of guy, and those sixties guys specialized in making establishment people
All that the Jews at the temple knew was that this man had disrupted the normal order
of things. How would people go about the business of making their sacrifices and paying
their temple tax now? There were a lot of practical concerns. What was this guy doing? Who
You know, when we read about people in the Bible, we always want to identify with the
good guys and distance ourselves from the bad guys. Were
kind of like that. We dont like to think of ourselves as being like the Pharisees.
We act like wed be so cool if Jesus were to disrupt our lives. Well, were not.
And he does disrupt our lives. I was busy living my life when God told me it was time to
enter the ministry. Jesus disrupted my life. Some of you have had experiences in your life
where you were headed in one direction and suddenly found yourself stopped in your tracks
or even turned around and headed in another direction. Even if you never told anybody, you
always thought that this was somehow Gods doings. God may choose to disrupt our
families, our jobs, even our church. Most of us do not take Gods disruptions very
well. We pout and rant and rave and just plain sit down. You know, our little tempers dont
have much effect on God. We might as well learn how to embrace those disruptions. Maybe
you can recall a big disruption in your life, and maybe you cant. If not, maybe that
means youve been more obedient to God than I have, so you dont need a divine
disruption. Some disruptions are major. Others are more like our scripture storyonly
a few hours were really disrupted, when the Lord gave some good Jews a good shake.
One church member related a story to me recently about a time when she was getting
ready for work and felt strongly impressed by God to do a charitable deed. She pointed out
that she was already late for work and thought that surely this could wait until the next
day, but the urging of the Holy Spirit was so strong that she gave up. Quickly, she
gathered up some childrens clothing and took them to her sons teacher. How
did you know I needed these? the teacher asked. I have a little boy whose
house burned last night and he doesnt have any clothes. This mother thought
that what mattered was getting to work. But God had a higher priority. Her life was
disrupted by Jesus that day.
The Jews in our story had no idea that something unusual was going to happen. They were
into their routine. It was just another daya day to make a few shekels off the
pilgrims who had come to worship God. At some level, they must have known that the sacred
temple of the living God should not have become a marketplace. But they had lost touch
with the greater truth that the temple was built for the sake of Gods relationship
with the people of Israel. They didnt understand how much God hates exploitation.
When the other gospels tell this story, they quote Jesus as saying that the temple is a
house of prayer.
The temple in Jerusalem no longer exists. When the Holy Spirit came to dwell among Gods
people, each one of us became a temple. Our own personal temples are to be houses of
prayerbuilt by God so that we might serve and worship our Creator. But we kind of
forget that sometimes. We think destructive thoughts and do destructive things. We have
lost touch with Gods original purpose for our lives. And just when we get
comfortable, Jesus comes in and shakes things up. He drives out the evil that has taken up
residence in our hearts. He reminds us that God has better things for us than that.
In spite of the feeling of disruption that we have when God gets hold of us and turns
over our tables, we would be wise to accept Gods disruptions as an occasion for
dialogue. In other words, when God messes with your life, dont buck, and dont
just go with the flow. It would be a really good time to start talking with God about whats
Maybe we have missed the pointor forgotten it. For example, if
worship is nothing more than habit, if you are making mental grocery lists during the
sermon, or planning your afternoon during the offertorymaybe it is time to rethink
why we come here on Sunday.
Perhaps worship isnt your issue. Maybe you have let your job become merely the
means to a paycheck, forgetting your place of service. And what about our families? Is
your spouse still the object of your love or has he or she become a person to meet needs
in your life?
Jesus calls us to a place of integrity. That means we worship when come to worship, we
work when we go to work, and we love those whom God has placed close to our hearts. And we
never, under any circumstances look upon other people as the means to an endthat is
the essence of exploitation.
There are a lot of complications in our lives, but integrity is simple. If the priests
and Jewish leaders at the temple had been men of integrity, they would have realized that
the Passover should not be turned into a commercial enterprise exploiting the religious
faith of the traveling worshipers. And they certainly would never have allowed any
existing trade to be carried on within the temple courts.
Some of you have worked for companies that were so focused on bottom-line profit, they
ignored the concerns of employees. Jesus wants to disrupt that kind of thinking. He does
understand our anger when we are the objects of exploitation. And he will not tolerate our
becoming the exploiters of others.
All of us have some power in our liveseven though it may seem pretty limited. Use
the power you have to bring your life into a place of integrity.
The Pharisees were sticklers for doing things right. But that doesnt mean they
always understood Gods view of what was right or important. But dont worryGod
loves us. You will not be left alone in your ignorance or in willful sin. You better get
readyyoure going to be disrupted by Jesus.