How do you picture Jesus? Today’s reading is sometimes difficult for people because we tend to picture Jesus as what in literature one would call a flat or underdeveloped character. We like the wise teacher who is kind to children, but we shy away from the strong, assertive, and sometimes rigid aspects of his personality. Part of that, I think, is because we don’t really understand the adjectives that we use to describe Jesus as they are used in the Bible. The one in particular word that comes to mind is humble.
Humble is not low self-esteem. It is not being shy or fearful. It is not necessarily being polite, though I think those two often are found riding side by side.
The best description I ever heard of ‘humble’ I think will make a lot of sense, especially to all the horsemen and women, in our community. A wild horse is fast, strong, and will kick, buck and bite to resist being controlled. Humans by nature are the same way. But when a skilled person trains the animal to follow their commands, the horse, under certain circumstances becomes gentle, affectionate, and the best horse and rider combinations move as one being, the horse using its power and agility to accomplish the will of its rider. The horse has lost none of its power and could chose at any moment to disregard the wishes of its rider, but a well-trained horse under most circumstances will be compliant.
Moses was an example of a humble man. He is the only man, other Jesus, that the Bible describes as humble. He did not get there overnight and there were occasions when he overstepped his authority and because of that, he did not cross the Jordan with the people he had led for forty years. God spent 80 years training and molding Moses into a person who could be that connected to God that he could represent God to the Pharoah of Egypt and the infant nation Israel. Moses was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong.
Jesus, by the very nature of being God incarnate, is totally in-sink with the will of God. When Jesus attempted to teach in the synagogue in his home town the question arose, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Mark 6:3). The statement indicated that Jesus was not raised as a scholar, but that his father, Joseph built things with his hands for a living and Jesus would have grown up helping him. Therefore, they questioned where he got his knowledge of scripture. If you have ever worked with wood you know that it requires both strength and agility to build large items like boats, yokes for oxen, and other farm implements out of wood, especially before the advent of power tools. The times when Jesus was gentle was because he was so strong, not a sign that he was weak. Jesus could step outside of the customs of his own people and show compassion to women, to children, to the physically ill or disabled, and to the mentally ill or disabled because he did not need to prove himself to anyone. He was not afraid of anyone, not even the devil himself. That does not mean he did not get sad, tired, hungry, or angry, but Jesus was in total control of his physical self and intimately aligned with God so that when he spoke or acted it was as though God the Father had done so.
So what happened in John chapter 2? Jesus and his disciples have gone from Capernaum, in Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover. It is about a three day walk. When Jesus gets to the outer courtyard of the temple, he sees the place is set up like a flea market. The merchants, taking advantage of the fact that many people had traveled for several days to Jerusalem are set up ready to sell you all those things that you will need to properly celebrate the Passover, in particular, they had the animals you would need for your sacrifice so you didn’t have to bring them on the journey with you and worry that they might not be in perfect shape when you arrived. They also had people who would exchange your Roman money (which had the blasphemous image of Caesar, who was worshiped as a god) for temple money appropriate for making your tithe to the temple, and of course there was a fee for those services. Jesus becomes furious. He is angry because people are taking advantage of other people who are trying to worship God on the very grounds of the temple.
Ritual purity is a hard thing for us to understand because we no longer observe those kinds of laws. Ritual purity has nothing to do with sin. You became ritually impure for common things: having sex, even with your spouse; having a baby; a woman during her monthly period; touching a dead body which included caring for the sick and dying. Jesus was criticized because his disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. It had nothing to do with germs or dirt and everything to do with ritual purity. The merchants in the courtyard were using the laws of ritual purity to make money off of travelers who came to worship in the only place at that time one was allowed to worship on these high holy days. The temple grounds were considered so holy that latrines were set up off the property so as not to ritually contaminate anything on the temple grounds, yet they didn’t mind making a few bucks off their neighbor. To Jesus, this was an abomination.
Jesus comes in and creates total chaos. He makes a whip out of pieces of cords and chases the sheep and cows out into the streets. He upturns the tables of the money changers so Roman and temple coins are rolling around on the ground, and I am sure there were people frantically scrambling to pick them up and sort them out. Probably still with whip in hand, he yells at those who are selling birds to get out of there. Today, if this happened, someone would be videoing the commotion while their friend called 911.
We are told the scene caused Jesus’ disciples to remember a passage from Psalm 69:9 “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me: the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” John quotes the first half of this verse. I suspect the temple elders remembered this Psalm as well because they don’t call the temple guards to have him thrown out, instead they as ask him , “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (John 2:18) They are asking him to prove to them that he is the Messiah and that he is in fact doing this as a fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus responds, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus is offering them resurrection as the proof of who he is. He is calling his own body the temple – the place where God dwells among men. The gospel of John makes no apologies for stating that Jesus is god Incarnate – from his beginning passage “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1) His statement at the end of chapter 20 “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you many have life in his name.”(John 20:21). John points out the spiritual blindness of the temple leaders who take Jesus literally and tell him that it took 46 years to build the temple, how can you rebuild it in three.
I would challenge you this week as you read your Bibles to begin to picture Jesus and God the Father as acting as one, just like a well trained horse and its rider, each one acutely aware of the movements of the other, responding the words and actions of each other for a single purpose. Then imagine what it would be like if you had that kind of relationship with God/Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.