Can you remember the pictures of Jesus from when you were a child? Long hair and sandals, normally holding a baby lamb; the Jesus of my childhood was sort of a hippy. Songs about Jesus make everything sound peaceful and mild, full of love and joy. It was always hard for me to understand how that Jesus came to be hated by so many, so much so that they wanted to kill him.
I love watching movies, and I certainly love watching movies that involve James Bond, 007. Quite often these movies involve a chase scene through a crowded market, usually on a motorcycle. In those scenes, tables get knocked over. People jump out of the way at the last minute. Things get destroyed, and general mayhem takes over. One of the reasons that I love watching these movies is because it’s so chaotic, so unbelievable. I expect that kind of ruckus from James Bond, but not from Jesus.
And that’s exactly the Jesus we find today. This is the first public event that takes place in John’s gospel. Don’t miss that: this is not a random event. This is Jesus going to Jerusalem, the center of religious and political life. This is Jesus in the spotlight for the first time, and he isn’t wearing his tie-dye and sandals.
Jesus entered the Temple during one of the most important times of the year, Hebrew Passover. Even though there were Roman guards posted to keep the peace, Jesus fashioned a whip and started a fight. As he began to drive the merchants out of the Temple, there must have been chaos: people running and screaming, animals escaping from cages, tables being knocked over. People must have thought he was a madman, just like something straight out of a James Bond movie.
But this was not an impulsive act; it was an act that was thought out and directed, a righteous anger. Jesus was done with the posturing and pretending of church. The act of worship had been taken over by ritual and greed, and the most holy place had become nothing more than a market.
Organized institutional religion cannot take the place of a true relationship with God. Knowing and completing the rituals is not enough. Quoting sacred texts isn’t either. Only pure sincerity and a desire to become one with a spiritual maker can bring you to a holy place. Money, even money given to a church, can never replace living a life of compassion and service and true faith.
Jesus told the Jewish leaders that they were destroying the Temple with their abuses, but in a deeper sense, he was speaking of himself. If you commercialize the church, you abandon and destroy the teachings of Jesus.
This is a story that still plays itself out today. Within each of us is greed and selfishness which gets in the way of our ability to be authentic in our worship and service. We have to fight that human will every day. Even among those who have true faith in Jesus, there is the possibility that we will allow ritual to replace reality.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that despite the fact that Jesus knows this about us, he loves us.
Christianity is never about following a set of rules or getting the ritual just right. Christianity is about trusting in a teaching which calls us to be in service and show compassion for one another; to take a leap of faith in believing that there is something more important and bigger than just ourselves.
We will always be human, and because of that, be tempted into greed and sin. But the good news is that we are loved anyway, and through the teachings of that guy in sandals, holding a lamb, we can have our misunderstanding and disobedience replaced with something better. The hippy peace loving Jesus of our Sunday school classrooms can also be the tough, take-no-crap James Bond Jesus who can fix and save the world.
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15 He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16 He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.[a]
18 Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”
19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.