Today’s story of when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers is a story about passion. As the disciples watched Jesus expressing his anger, they were thinking about a Psalm in the Old Testament where the Psalmist says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Zeal, passion, this is the wilderness challenge that we are presented with today. Are we passionate about our faith?
This story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers has led some churches to question if they should allow the youth group to have a fundraiser in between services on Sunday morning. And does Jesus not like the hazelnut coffee and pastries that we set up in our church’s hospitality area?
Well, I think Jesus is much more concerned about a deeper issue than fundraisers or refreshments in between worship services. When Jesus overturned those tables, he was giving us a powerful sign that God had sent him to overturn sin and death.
He alludes to this when the money changers asked him to show him a sign of his authority to do such a thing and he told them, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus saw himself as the Living Temple and it would be through his life, death, and resurrection that God would bring salvation to the world.
Overturning the tables was so much more than getting upset over people taking coffee into the sanctuary. It was a dramatic sign that Jesus used to get these Temple doorkeepers’ attention and prepare them for the radical new thing that God was about to do through him.
Think of the story just before this this story where Jesus turns water into wine. He chose a wedding as the occasion for his very first miracle. Both of these dramatic stories in this one chapter are meant to get our attention and put us on high alert for what will happen later in John’s Gospel.
Which brings us to our wilderness challenge for today which is related to our passion. The challenge for us is to renew our passion and zeal in what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection.
During the months, weeks, and then days leading up to the presidential election this past fall, a lot of passion was being expressed by many people but it was related more about our choice of politics than it was about our faith. And while our faith and our political leanings do overlap, it can be easy to have more passion for our political party than we do for the party that counts, the one where Jesus is the true King over all creation.
Sometimes, our passion gets misplaced because of the competing voices around us. When Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness, he knew that his energy and passion for his work and mission needed to come from God alone.
One of my favorite verses in the Gospels is where the Gospel of Mark tells us that “Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
“And the angels waited on him.”
Jesus was able to draw his energy from God. Satan was outnumbered there in the wilderness.
Our passion and energy in living out our faith does not come from aligning with the correct political party or a certain political candidate or even a particular church or pastor. Our passion and energy is from God and from others who are also drawing their passion and energy from God’s redemptive love for the world.
Actually, if you think about it, sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that these other sources give us a boost of energy, but it’s not the same kind of energy and passion that only God can provide.
“Zeal for your house will consume me.” “Your house.” “God’s house.” And by God’s house, Jesus wasn’t referring primarily about the bricks and walls of the Temple in Jerusalem. And by the way, that Temple would eventually be destroyed by the Romans about forty years later and would never be rebuilt again.
Jesus was identifying himself as God’s Temple. And even though he suffered and died on a cross, he was raised to new life on the third day, never to see death again.
We don’t draw our passion from the latest building campaign. We draw our passion from the Risen Jesus who is the living Temple.
The story of three bricklayers is a multi-faceted parable with many different variations, but is rooted in an authentic story. After the great fire of 1666 that leveled London, the world’s most famous architect, Christopher Wren, was commissioned to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral.
One day in 1671, Christopher Wren observed three bricklayers on a scaffold, one crouched, one half-standing and one standing tall, working very hard and fast. To the first bricklayer, Christopher Wren asked the question, “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.”
The second bricklayer, responded, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.”
But the third brick layer, the most productive of the three and the future leader of the group, when asked the question, “What are you doing?” replied with a gleam in his eye, “I’m a cathedral builder. I’m building a great cathedral to The Almighty.”
Our passion is rooted in always remembering that we aren’t just laying bricks or building a wall. We are building a great cathedral to The Almighty.
We are building a great cathedral where we are always growing in what it means to have a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith.
We are building a great cathedral where we are providing meals every Monday for people in need.
We are building a great cathedral where we are raising money to provide a house for a family here in southeast, Ohio.
We are building a great cathedral where college students are welcomed and included in the life of our church.
We are building a great cathedral where our Growing Tree preschool children can learn and grow in a Christian environment.
We are building a great cathedral where people are initiated into the life of our church through baptism.
We are building a great cathedral where people’s prayer requests are lifted up every single week.
We are building a great cathedral where we gather for worship and our spirits are lifted.
Our Temple does have bricks and mortar and thank God, even air-conditioning, but more importantly, our Temple is so much more. It is a haven of blessing and peace for all who enter here.
This Temple represents the presence of the Risen Christ who offers us hope, forgiveness, direction, purpose, and passion. We are never alone in the wilderness. Jesus is with us in every single moment.
When Jesus overturned those tables in the Temple, he did so out of zeal to point people to what he was about to do through his life, death, and resurrection. This is why we receive Holy Communion, to draw our passion from what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
As we go through this week, I invite us to think about this question that the poet, Mary Oliver includes in her poem entitled, “The Summer Day.”
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” That’s a great question!
Our wilderness challenge today began with Jesus getting our attention by overturning some tables, and it has led us all the way to this table where we are now invited to receive the bread and the cup.
Come to this holy table where we are invited to discover what we will do with our one wild and precious life.
Wilderness Challenges - Our Passion