Empty gestures make only noise – Third Sunday in Lent – Exodus 20:1-17/ John 2:13-25

I would like to approach this teaching with a two-pronged approach; theologically (and I will not approach it as if I am writing a doctrinal thesis) and pastorally so that we can take a thought or two home.

The cleansing of the temple by Jesus is a narrative that is found in all four gospels. Not every narrative (the wedding at Canna being a case in point) is found in every Gospel. But what is unique to John’s Gospel is that it is placed right at the beginning of the Gospel in chapter two, just after the wedding at Canna. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) have this narration towards the end of their Gospels

For the Synoptics (meaning to see together, because they are similar) the cleansing of the temple was the last straw that broke the camel’s back or in this case the tolerance levels of the Jewish establishment towards Jesus. It is this incident that drove the nail into Jesus’ coffin or more precisely, into his palms and feet. In the case of John’s Gospel, it was the raising of Lazarus.

So why does John position and present this text differently? For John, the cleansing of the temple is highlighted not so much in what he does (which is a bit different in details compared to the Synoptics) but rather in what Jesus says. “You will not make MY FATHER’s house into a marketplace.” (In the synoptics it is a den of thieves).

Here in lies the revelation of Jesus as the SON OF GOD establishing his authority at a time when every Jew from the region and the diaspora poured into the temple for the Passover. Jesus was not making some petty claim in a small town of Galilee. This was him making his bold case; he is the Messiah; he is the Son of God and this is his father’s house. This was his big-ticket announcement, his first public speech and one that would send ripples throughout the Jewish faith.

Coming to the pastoral implications. The Lord is presented as all riled up and while I would love to talk about our anger issues I would rather focus on the actions of Jesus. This is not the image of the sweetheart of Jesus that we have got used to; this is the Christ setting perspectives right. Understandably, commercial activity will surround religious expressions. But when the activity overtakes the core essentials of the faith, when faith becomes mere activity, then this can best be described as a faithless business.

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