What is Jesus up to? He challenges the religious leaders to tear down “this temple,” but he is also doing some tearing down of his own. He tears down the marketplace. He tears down expectations.
A Closer Examination
For a moment look at this scene as a piece of literature. A character, let’s call him Bob, comes into the temple. When Bob sees the marketplace that has sprung up to meet the worship needs of Jews coming from far away, he gets angry. So angry that he makes a weapon, a whip, out of available supplies. He then proceeds to chase out all the merchants and their animals, presumably by whipping them. Bob just keeps going and tears down the currency exchange tables. “Get the hell out of my (dad’s) house!” he yells. “This isn’t Main Street!” The people in charge challenge him. “Where do you get off tearing down other people’s work? Who died and made you king?”
As readers, we have a different question in mind. “Why did he do that? What the heck is that supposed to mean?” The text describes the scene and the actions in quick brush strokes, but there isn’t much to give us clues to the reasoning behind Bob’s actions. He’s obviously mad about the economic activity going on in the temple courts. But, why?
The reality is, the merchants and currency exchange agents (moneychangers is such a loaded word) are providing a necessary service for those who have come a long way to worship at the temple this Passover. They come with Roman or Greek money, prohibited in the temple, so they need to change their currency. If worshippers have come a long way or perhaps don’t raise their own animals, they need to buy acceptable animals to sacrifice.
Okay, let’s get rid of Bob and get back to Jesus.
Tearing Down Injustice
As this helpful article over on Bible Odyssey describes, contemporary accounts indicate that the economic agents use their monopoly over religiously mandated goods to take advantage of the powerless worshippers. It’s not surprising that Jesus is deeply angered that such injustice is done. To make matters worse, the marketplace had recently been expanded into the Court of the Gentiles, where the Gentile “God-fearers” would be worshipping this Passover. The merchants (and the temple leaders who allowed it) are committing unjust economic practices all while disrupting the worship of those who chose to follow YHWH and weren’t just born into it.
It’s enough to make you want to scream and dump over tables, right?
Tearing Down and Raising Up
Jesus then turns the tables on the leaders and expands the topic. The temple was the place God promised to be present in. Jesus makes a bold statement, not just in his cryptic pronouncement of destroying and raising, but in calling his body “this temple.” Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us. Jesus is the new “place” where God’s presence sits. The Jerusalem temple had a lot of walls to keep people out, while Jesus walks among all people, bringing the presence of God with him.
But, what does this have to do with us?
- We see in this story (and much of the rest of Scripture) that injustice makes God (and therefore Jesus) angry. We, then, should work to tear down the walls of injustice.
- We see that erecting walls to keep worshippers out makes God (and therefore Jesus) angry. We, then, should work to tear down the walls that keep those seeking God from joining our worship.
- We see that Jesus tears down the expectations of the religious leaders. They think they will tear him down, but Jesus rises and builds up a Church. We, then, should work to build up those around us, not tearing them down.
Illustrate the theme of tearing down and building up with a physical activity, like the cross+generational cup challenge in our free resources for this week, “Build It Up, Tear It Down” taken from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education curriculum. This activity can be done as a challenge, or even adapted to be an illustration in worship (young kids love to tear things down!).
May Jesus tear down everything that gets in our way of the bond of love between us, and build us up to be his hands and feet!
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!