Fighting on Behalf of the Poor
January 22nd, 2020
The Journey Post with Michael Card
"Fighting on Behalf of the Poor"
From: "The Parable of Joy: Reflections on the Wisdom of the Book of John"
12 After this He went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and disciples. But they did not stay there many days.
13 And the Passover of the Jews was near. So Jesus went up to Jerusalem and found 14 in the Temple the ones selling cattle and sheep and doves, as well as the coin dealers...just sitting there.
15 He made a whip out of small cords and threw everyone out of the temple, along with all the sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned the tables. 16 To the dove sellers He said, "Take these things from here. Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandising."
17 His disciples remembered that it had been written, "The zeal for Your house will devour me."
18 The Jews said to Him, "What sign do You show us for doing these things?"
19 Jesus answered and said, "Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it."
20 Then the Jews said to Him, "It took forty-six years to build this sanctuary and You, in three days, will raise it?"
21 But the sanctuary He was speaking about was His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead His disciples remembered that He had said this and they believed the Writings and the Word of Jesus.
You will not find the first expulsion from the temple in the other Gospels. It is only here, in John. He knew his readers were aware of the fact that Jesus' last public act before His crucifixion was the tearing up of the marketplace in the Gentile court; that episode was described in the Synoptics. What John wrote about was an earlier, separate incident when the traders were also expelled from the temple by the Nazarene. This was Jesus' first public act; thus His public ministry was bookended by a literal fight for prayer and the poor.
After spending some time with His family in Capernaum, Jesus headed to Jerusalem for Passover. Matthew called Capernaum "His own town." It was the closest thing to a home He ever had after being thrown out of Nazareth. This time spent with His family and disciples represents the calm before the storm.
We know Jesus went to Jerusalem at least once as a twelve-year-old boy. It is safe to assume that He had been there for other Passovers as well, if not every one. But this year something is different.
Coming into town, Jesus notices that the marketplace for the temple is not on the Mount of Olives, where it has always been located. As He comes close to the temple, He hears an unaccustomed noise. He enters the outer court, the court of the Gentiles, and discovers the reason for the cacophony. Annas, one of the high priests, has moved his marketplace into the very temple itself!
Jesus does not explode all at once. He finds some small cords and ties a knot in one end to make a whip. This act shows premeditation. Among the groups He attacks, the moneychangers and the cattle and sheep dealers, Jesus specifically turns on the sellers of sacrificial doves or pigeons. This detail is vital to understanding the story. John has given us this specific information for a reason.
Jesus singles out the dove dealers because the dove was the sacrifice of the poor. Provision was made in the Law for the sacrifice of a pigeon to replace normal lamb or cattle sacrifice so that the poor would not be cut off from worship at the temple. In fact, Joseph and Mary offered a dove for Jesus as an infant, to redeem their firstborn son.
Earlier, when the marketplace was outside the temple, a dove sacrifice cost about four cents. Now, inside the temple, the price was seventy-five cents! Part of Jesus' indignation was that the poor were being cut off from sacrificing to their God.
The second temple expulsion, as described in the Synoptics, includes two passages from the Prophets to explain Jesus' scandalous actions. It is important to notice that in John's account of this first expulsion, a passage from the Wisdom writings gives shape and meaning to the event. Jesus' disciples remember the words of Psalm 69: "Zeal for Your house will devour me." As he will throughout the Gospel, John bases his account on the Wisdom writings. It is touching to realize that this psalm also speaks prophetically of Jesus' being offered vinegar to drink (see v. 21). This act of Jesus will bring together the forces that will ultimately arrest and crucify Him. It is important that it is remembered in the words of a crucifixion psalm.
After the ruckus is over, as the merchants gather up bleating sheep and scattered coins looking sideways at Jesus, muttering under their breaths, the Jews ask for an explanation. Note that Jesus is not condemned for what He did. Everyone knows His actions were right (in fact the Pharisees in particular would have applauded Jesus' attack on the Sadducean institution like the temple market); the only question is one of authority. "Who gave you the authority to do this?" they ask.
In John's Gospel, Jesus will rarely answer questions. This situation is no exception. He gives no explanation precisely because He alone has the authority and owes no one an explanation. Instead Jesus prophesies.
This is our first major example of the Motif of Misunderstanding, one of the distinctive motifs in John's Gospel.
"Destroy this sanctuary," Jesus says, "and in three days I will raise it."
It would be difficult to underestimate the attachment the Jews had to the temple. They called it ha makom, "the Place." In this place they met with God, in this place they offered sacrifices for their sins, in this place their entire culture was secured. When the temple was later destroyed - razed to the ground with not one stone left standing on another - the character of Judaism radically changed.
As almost always happens in religion, what was initially intended to be a reverence for God degenerated into a love affair with a building. Jesus' scandalous words, "Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it," would stay lodged in the Pharisees' minds for years. Those words would be the basis for charges against Him two years later. And years after that, His disciples, specifically Stephen, would be persecuted and martyred for following the One who spoke against the temple (Acts 6:14).
The structure of the Motif of Misunderstanding is virtually always the same:
a. Jesus will make a deeply spiritual pronouncement.
b. The next verse will indicate that the people grossly misunderstood what He meant. Their misunderstanding will go beyond a mere failure to grasp His intention. They will always completely misinterpret what He has said.
Keep a close watch for the occurrence of this motif. It has a cumulative effect.
"It has taken forty-six years to build this temple," they say. In fact the temple was still under construction and would not be completed for another thirty-four years. It would then be destroyed only six years later by Titus.
"But the sanctuary He was speaking about was His body."
Here is John's unique, backward-looking perspective. Only John will pull us aside and whisper in our ear an explanation that only became clear years later.
The aside goes on to say that after everything happened, just as Jesus had said it would, the disciples would remember that even in His early ministry Jesus had said that He would rise from the dead.