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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

At the Marketplace

“At the Marketplace”

John 2:13-22

New Revised Standard Version

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.

Who has ever been to a farmer’s market? When you go to a farmer’s market, what do you find there? What are the different vendors selling? You go to a farmer’s market to get things that are fresh. That’s what the vendors are there to do – provide home-grown and homemade items to those who come. Nobody ever questions why the vendors are there selling what people need.

In this text we read about the marketplace at the temple. These various venders would have been expected to be there, especially during an important festival like Passover. People from all over the region would be in Jerusalem to celebrate. Since it had been a requirement since the time of Moses to travel to God’s house for the three main festivals, the city would be packed.

These travelers from out of town wouldn’t have brought the items they needed for the required sacrifices – the cattle, lambs, doves, grain. They would probably not have the correct money for the temple tax, so they would need to exchange Roman money for those correct coins. It would be like us traveling to another country. We would need to exchange US currency for the currency of that country so that we could make purchases.

This marketplace was needed for the people as they came for the Passover. They had been told to go to the temple because that’s where people went to meet God.

Here in John, this event at the temple where Jesus engages with the people and vendors in the marketplace, is his public debut. We usually think of this event, the turning over the tables of the vendors, happening when Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time because the other three gospels place it at that point.

In John, it doesn’t happen there. This event happens right at the beginning, right after Jesus has been at the wedding at Cana where he changed the water into wine. That was more of his private debut.

So here he is for the first time out with the people and this is what the religious leaders see of him. He comes out and sees the vendors doing exactly what they are there to do – providing the pilgrims with the things they need for the sacrifices – and he drives them all out! The religious leaders are wondering what the people supposed to do.

We often think of this event as Jesus’ cleansing the temple which is what the other gospels tell us. What Jesus does here might be like someone turning off the power in the arena in the middle of a basketball game. That person is not cleansing the arena, he is stopping the game.

That’s what Jesus is doing here. He is stopping the game. Jesus wasn’t turning over the tables because the vendors were cheating people. He did what he did to send a message to the people and the religious leaders. Things are changing. It’s not going to be like it was before. You aren’t going to need all this. You won’t need the vendors selling the sheep and the cattle and the doves and the grain. You won’t need moneychangers. None of that is going to be necessary in the future. God is going to be doing things in a new way.

The people were used to the temple being the meeting place between God and themselves. The holy place. The only place you could truly encounter the living God. The temple was the place where the human and the divine intersected when the people came to worship and to sacrifice to the living Lord.

So, what does Jesus do? He comes and brings all of that to a standstill. He says “stop!” We’re going to do it another way. Things are changing. Much like what we have been experiencing the past year. Things have changed and it is out of our control. We can’t decide not to deal with the pandemic. We can’t decide not to deal with life as it has been during this past year and as what it will be going forward.

What is Jesus’ message to the people and his message to us? The religious leaders who are standing there ask Jesus what gives him the authority to destroy the marketplace. To stop the way we have been doing things. To make it so the people who come to the temple can’t get what they need to follow God’s law. They want to know why Jesus is disrupting what God commanded generations ago in the time of Moses.

Jesus is communicating a message. A message that normal is no longer the same as it was. As we might say it today, they were going into a “new” normal. That new normal is that there will be another holy place. Another place where people and the divine will intersect. And it’s not in a building.

John tells us at the very beginning of his gospel that “the word became flesh and lived among us.” That is his starting point. That is John’s incarnational story. Jesus came onto the earth as a human being. God and humanity intersected in that one person, Jesus. The word has become flesh.

Through Jesus, God now comes and dwells in human beings. No longer is God dwelling out there only. God is dwelling inside of us.

We hear those words often, particularly on a communion Sunday, that God lives within us. Jesus is with us in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this long ago, long before Jesus’ arrival. Jeremiah says that the word would be written on your heart. The new covenant is coming so that no longer will people have to instruct one another on what Jesus is about because the word will already be there within them. We might need to remind people, though, that the word is written on their heart.

As we come to the table, to communion, we hear the words along with the cup that it is the new covenant sealed in Jesus’ blood. This is what Jesus came to do, to bring that new covenant, those words written by Jeremiah, to fruition.

I think of it here, in his debut, that Jesus is planting seeds. He is planting seeds for where things are going to go during his life and ministry on earth. He is planting seeds for the conflict that will be present as he teaches and performs miracles in front of those who doubt his authority to do so. The conflict that will follow him, leading up to his death on the cross.

Along the way, Jesus is watering those seeds as he speaks, teaches, and has his disciples follow him observing. He is nurturing those followers so that they might understand what it means to have God living inside of you. To have those words written on your heart. To have that power that they will receive later inside of them. They, too, will have God dwelling within them just as Jesus does. They will be God’s people in a way they could never imagine.

As those little seeds sprout into tiny little seedlings, Jesus carefully nurtures them so that they will grow even though they may not know which way they are growing.

Those of you who grow plants and vegetables know that these don’t usually grow straight up into the air. Some will bend one way or the other. The gardener will put stakes up to keep the stems upright or put a cage around the tomatoes to keep them from drooping and rotting.

In a similar way that is what Jesus is doing with the disciples. He is putting in those stakes to keep them upright so they don’t bend over and fall to the ground where they will be trampled. He is caring for them. He knows that there will be a time after his resurrection that those seeds he began with will become blossoms. They will bloom. They will become fruit.

Jesus is providing his followers with all the things that will be necessary to move forward in bringing the gospel to people and in dealing with the conflict that will continue to build even beyond Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

Where is it that God meets you? Where God might be nurturing you, helping you to grow, putting in the stakes to keep you upright. Where is it that reminds you that God is present within your heart?

Maybe it’s in a place like this sanctuary – sitting in a pew looking at the lighted cross and the stained-glass windows, reflecting in the familiar surroundings of the space. Maybe it is out in nature tromping through the snow (my favorite!) or watching the trees bud and the crocuses poking their heads out of the ground. Maybe there is another place where God reminds you that God dwells within you.

During Lent, we go on this journey with Jesus as a reminder of Jesus being with us. As a reminder of all that Jesus does for us. It is a time for us to intentionally and diligently seek the place where we experience God’s presence; the intersection of the divine with the human, with us.

Through Lent we follow Jesus. In a sense we might say that we follow Jesus’ body, that new holy place. The new temple. We follow him here as he braids the cords into the whip he uses to drive the vendors out of the temple marketplace.

We journey with him when he gets down on his knees to wash the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, and then eats and drinks with his friends. We follow as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane asking God: “Do I really have to do this? Can’t you take this cup from me?” And as he prays for those who are going to follow, who are going to continue this journey, this ministry in the days and years beyond his time with them.

We follow his body all the way to the cross, through his death, as he is brought to the tomb and laid there. We follow his body as he is resurrected. In all those places it is still his body. For even after the resurrection, we read about the food he ate and those who touched his flesh.

Lent is the time that we follow Jesus, this one who shows us that the holy place isn’t tied to a building. It is tied to our hearts. It is in this place that we meet Jesus again. That we remember that Jesus went to the cross where he died for us. We remember that he is there for us. That the divine and the human always connect in our hearts.

Remember as you go to the place where you experience God’s presence. Remember as you spend this season in prayer and meditation seeking to connect with God again or in a new way. Remember as you come to the table to meet Christ there today.


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