Clearing the Campus| John 2.15-17
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. 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; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:15-17 | ESV
Amidst all the sales pitches and all the bargaining, he wove together his own scourging whip, his anger tightening with each tied knot. And then he let loose. He stampeded all the oxen and the sheep too, right out of the temple courtyards. And then he did business with the money-changing bankers by overturning their tills – coins clinking all over the courtyard (a field day for the poor!) – and then he upended all the tables for good measure, effectively hanging a “closed for business” sign up for the day. Then, turning to the dove marketers, who stood there in shock, he said to them, “Get. These. Out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a religious emporium!” And then – though a bit dumbfounded themselves – his followers remembered what had been written so long before, the words of ancient Scripture gliding before their faces: “Passionate zeal for the honor of your House devours me!” MAV
“Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model.” ~ van Gogh
Jesus surveyed the temple courtyards and witnessed a landscape of clinking coins, snorting oxen, shuffling feet, and clicking calculators. A congregation of consumables and consumers consuming them. But there was one in their midst who was instead consumed. A living, breathing, burning bush in the temple precincts. And this bush had thorns. In the heat of his passion for God he made a whip, a scourge. And he wasn’t afraid to use it. I used to see him whipping people – the salesmen and marketers – as he cleaned house and cleared the campus (canvas!). But the indication is he used the improvised whip to move the animals, starting his own little stampede. Then he began upsetting the tills, overturning the tables, and telling the dove peddlers and scammers to scram. With the prospect of revolution looming before her, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, “You cannot he, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator…We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.” Jesus wasn’t an inactive spectator. He didn’t quietly endure the institutional sins he was witnessing in that courtyard – but neither did he just walk away or just go home and blog about all that was wrong with it. The Word engaged it. Literally. With the business end of a whip, with a raised voice and temper. Did things go back to business as usual after he left? Probably. His action was as symbolic as any miracle he ever performed – temporary in ultimate effect (since every person he healed still ultimately got sick again and died sooner or later) but powerful in immediate, teaching impact. If we’re paying attention. It’s interesting that John puts this story and the dramatic encounter with the religious establishment right here at the beginning of his ministry, whereas the other Gospel writers put it at the conclusion like an exclamation point. Who’s out of order? Or was it both? The fact is, for ancient storytellers the last concern they had as they wove their tales was getting a precise chronological sequence. They were very happy to leave that to their modern historian counterparts with all their copious footnotes and timelines. What matters right now is that John is the one telling the story, and this is where he puts this story. He’s introduced the hero and the good guys, and he’s not waiting to let a conflict slowly develop and the bad guys to be slowly unveiled – though the real antagonist does show up later. It’s all right here, right along with Jesus’ passion. The end telegraphed from the beginning.
What wrongs have you been silently witnessing? How is God challenging you to stop being an inactive spectator and to engage the wrongs? How do we know when it’s time for us to act as his agents in clearing the canvas of our world, the campus of our church?
Lord, the world typically sees you as meek and gentle. And you are. Help me to see more of the wildness of your passion for God, for what’s right, for the poor. And let me be consumed by it. Through Jesus.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.