The Third Sunday in Lent (3/15/2009)

Another Side of Jesus

Lessons:     Exodus 20:1-17     Psalm 19     1 Corinthians 1:18-25     St. John 2:13-22

Prayer of the Day:     Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

St. John 2:13-22 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

What is your image of Jesus? As I was growing up, there was a large, framed picture in the Sunday School room down in the church basement. It was a picture of Jesus, sitting near a stone path, with trees and a colored sky in the background. He is talking with two young children. As was the case with most pictures my church had of Jesus, he looked like a handsome, nice, young Norwegian man. Light brown hair. Blue eyes. His very countenance seemed one of peace and contentment. You could almost imagine him sitting there for hours, asking the children about their day, telling them how much he loved them, laughing at their knock-knock jokes. He was the soft and gentle preschool teacher extraordinaire. As I grew up, that was my predominant image of him.

Jesus and the Moneychangers

What a contrast between that image and the image presented in this morning's Gospel lesson. Here we see him in quite a different light. Walking into the temple at Jerusalem, he is enraged at what he sees. The place looks like a market. There are people selling cattle and lambs and doves. The moneychangers sit at tables, surrounded by coins. Furiously, Jesus puts together a makeshift whip from some stray cords, and he begins to snap it in the air. He chases all the animals out of there - first the sheep, and then the cattle. He runs over to the tables where the moneychangers are sitting with their mouths hanging open at this sight. He takes hold of the containers of coins, and pours them out all over the floor. He grabs the tables and flips them upside down. He runs at the dove merchants, screaming at the top of his lungs: "Take these things out of here." Mothers flee with their children in arms. Merchants look on with horrified expressions.

Which one is the real Jesus? The quiet, gentle, serene man seated with children? Or the ranting, raving wild man breaking up furniture in the Temple? Of course, they are both Jesus. Though we may be reluctant to admit it, he is portrayed in both of these ways in our New Testament. And truth be known, he is experienced in both of these ways today. There are times when the presence of Christ in our lives is a presence of comfort: when we are facing a deep loss; when we are frightened or concerned about the future; when we are overwhelmed with a sense of failure or disappointment; when illness strikes. In these times of weakness and uncertainty. In those times, Christ comes to us, bringing comfort and hope and peace.

There are other times, though, when the presence of Christ comes raging into our lives demanding that we change or meet destruction: when money or success or fitness or entertainment or security or comfort becomes more important to us than our God; when we refuse to work towards forgiveness with one another; when all of our energy becomes focused on ourselves, and we forget the call to serve one another; when we are unfaithful to the commitments we have made. In those times, Christ comes to us, challenging us to return to what is most important, demanding once again that we give our all to the God who loves us so deeply.

We often take comfort from the belief that Christ is with us. This morning's lesson reminds us that there are deeper questions involved here: Surely Christ is with us, but is Christ for us or against us? Has Christ come with a whip or an embrace? Does he gently offer us words of comfort and hope, or sternly offer us words of challenge and rebuke?

Good Lenten questions as we continue to explore what it means to have a Savior who loves us enough to die for us, and what it means to be a people who are that much in need of redemption. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. Why was Jesus so angry in the Temple that day?
  2. What was inappropriate or unfaithful about the behavior of the merchants that day?
  3. How did the leaders of the church react to Jesus' actions?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. When have I thought or acted in ways that anger Jesus?
  2. How has his word and presence in my life called me to repent?
  3. Of what do I still need to repent, and seek forgivenes from God?