Ok. It was the temple and not a bar, but I’m not that far off. At least it was the central gathering place for business and fellowship like many bars are today. What happened in the temple was as routine as the 6 PM crowd at the local pub, complete with stories, networking, deal making and letting off some steam. And it is one of the most interesting stories about Jesus in scripture, as he goes all “Chuck Norris” on the banker (money exchanger) and butcher (dove salesman.) To be precise the title should be: A rabbi, a butcher, a banker run into a bar of God. The word “bar” is Hebrew/Aramaic for son and Jesus is the son of God.
The story of Jesus in the temple driving out thieves is one of the stories that often comes up in conversation. To be honest it comes up from most often in my discussion with white, professional, evangelical men who are excited about a bold, daring, aggressive Jesus. Despite this being a unique story to the entire life and ministry of Jesus it is used as a standard to protect agendas, justify angry behaviors, and control obstacles in the way of setting up a “never surrender Jesus.”
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making 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. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2)
This story is known as Jesus cleansing the temple and is found in Matthew, Mark and John. (I am sure Luke meant to include it but was likely busy tending to the cuts and scrapes from those injured in the event.) Jesus is either caught off guard or fed up with the temple being used as a place of commerce. His righteous indignation sets the record straight and frees the worshipping people of distraction and solicitation. The scene is ripe with images of money flying, men crying, and animals trying to get free from their captors before becoming potted meat on the flame of sacrifice. Jesus redirects their worship from what they are “doing for God” back towards what they are “becoming in/through God.” At least, that is what he attempts to do.
While we could let our focus be in the actions of Jesus or the shame of the spiritual leaders, I am most interested in a group that seems to be left out of this story – the consumers. If there had not been people wanting to buy animals for sacrifice or exchange their foreign money for an legitimate offering instrument then Jesus would never had to do this. What came first – the buyer or the seller? Someone was consuming what was being offered, but they are only implied in the gospel accounts. How did they get off so easy?
Consumers of worship and worship artifacts aren’t solely a first century problem. Make no mistake about it, consumers of worship are definitely a first world problem, and the American church is likely (definitely) the leader in the club house when it comes to making Jesus a consumable product in worship. Much of what is normal in church worship gatherings today seems to be based on what people want when they “get their worship on” rather than what God is offering us as His children. We carry over our daily practices of consuming what we want and what makes us feel good about life into our religious activities that we call church or worship or “something kinda spiritual.” We cannot choose style over substance, experience over encounter, topics over text, feeling good over faithfully good, or happy over holy and think that our lives will be changed. Change is exactly what worship is all about. We are changed when we encounter the living God; see His holiness; sense His eternal goodness; confess our utter need for His deliverance/transformation/presence; and walk away in His faithfulness.
We are never spiritually right when we approach worship as consumers, because worship of the living God consumes us. That is the point of worshipping. It is not to be close to, in the presence of, or informed by God. Our worship is to be entirely consumed by Him.
When you journey to church today, I hope you walk right past the temptation of exchanging money for offerings or buying something to sacrifice. Make your life – your everything – both an offering and a sacrifice to God. Ask Him to accept you as you are and set fire to your heart for His kingdom. May your whole life – body, mind, and spirit – be a beautiful aroma unto the Lord. May Jesus be joyful in joining your worship and not compelled to judge you as a thief or prostitute in the church.
March 8, 2015 / 3rd Sunday of Lent