Thursday 29 February 2024

Sometimes the Way is Messy

Jesus gets angry. You may already know the story I’m going to refer to, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but I think it’s worth noting that it’s not an isolated incident. There are a few stories where it’s abundantly clear that Jesus can be irritated, frustrated, even out right angry. Jesus also cries, forgets, learns and gets tired. There doesn’t seem to be any biblical account of Jesus laughing, but there are certainly moments of humour in some of the parables and I feel pretty confident that someone as passionately human as Jesus would have covered all the emotions.

I think we do tend to play that down, though, and it’s unfortunate because connecting with Jesus’ humanity is an important part of understanding how Jesus shows us the way to the divine spirit that is in our own humanity. The way to God isn’t out there somewhere, it’s in here, in each heart and soul, in the wholeness of each person.

Let’s get back to angry Jesus. The story I’m referring to has historically been called “Jesus Cleanses the Temple.” Jesus goes into the Temple at Passover, sees the animals being sold for sacrifice and the moneychangers working overtime (it’s a busy festival) and he gets angry. He overturns their table and chases people and animals out.

The story appears in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke place the story in the last week of Jesus’ life, just days before the crucifixion. In their story, Jesus angrily denounces the profiteering behaviour of the sellers and tells them they’ve made the Temple “a den of thieves.” So Jesus is angry, not because of the selling, but of the cheating, unjust behaviour of the sellers, it seems. After all, pilgrims to the Temple need all those things: various animals were required for sacrifice and you couldn’t take the everyday Roman coins into the Holiest of Holies, they had to be changed into Jewish shekels. There were rules around the rituals to be performed when meeting God and even in the era of the Second Temple, this was still where God lived. For Jesus, the unjust behaviour was an affront to God. You can also see how annoying this would be to the Temple authorities and how it played into the end of Jesus’ life.

The author of John, though, tells the story differently. Even while the basic features are the same, I think they had a different reason for telling the story. In John, this happens near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, right after the miracle of changing water into wine at the Cana wedding. He says nothing about the behaviour of the sellers and money changers, but focuses on the things, the animals and money, saying they’ve made God’s house a “marketplace.” He upsets things and chases the animals out and, when the people ask for a sign of his authority to behave this way, he simply says “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John says they don’t understand that he means himself, the temple of his body, but later, after his death, the disciples remembered.

In this telling of the story, I think Jesus, right from the start, saw all those things people needed for ritual as just that, things. And things can get in the way between us and God. An open, honest and true heart’s all that’s needed to meet God. And that’s why Jesus talks about “the temple” of his body. That’s where God lives, not in a temple of stone, but in the bodies of all living things. That temple has physical shape, spirit and intellect, all of which we use to live the wholeness of God into the world. There’s more to it than just the stuff that can get in the way, there’s the stuff we need in order to care for the temple and build our relationship with God.


So what does that for you? How are you caring for your temple? What helps you be whole? What brings you closer to God in you? 

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