Cleansing the Temple

John 2:13-22


This Sunday we will hear the familiar story of Jesus driving the moneychangers and merchants out of the Temple. This is the year of Mark in the lectionary but we get John’s version, which differs from the version in the synoptic gospels in some significant ways.


While the synoptic gospels place this incident at the end of Jesus’s public ministry, John has this episode early in Jesus’s public career, which changes the outrageous nature of the act—we can view it as a proverbial “shot across the bow” that launches Jesus’s public ministry within the Temple itself- and it comes right on the heels of the story of wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), which was a far more private act, but is nonetheless the first of the “seven signs*” that help provide structure to the gospel of John. With this wild act of protest, Jesus is “announcing his presence with authority” with this audacious act directly aimed at the priestly class. And this act takes place on one of the holiest festivals of the year—Passover– when Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims. This act could not be more public. John’s gospel makes mention of three different Passovers during Jesus’s public ministry, and he disrupts this one in a pretty big way.


The religious leadership immediately challenges Jesus, demanding to know the source of Jesus’s authority in disrupting Temple business and practice in this way (v. 18). Jesus answers with a cryptic comment about tearing down and rebuilding the Temple, which is, of course, misunderstood. Matthew 27 and Mark 15 place these words in the mouths of Jesus’s enemies as accusations against him while he is on trial and on the cross, but in John’s gospel Jesus himself speaks this prediction. Jesus’s opponents respond that it has taken 46 years to build the temple in v. 20—this refers to the renovations done under Herod, not to the original building of the Second Temple after the end of the Babylonian Exile.


I couldn’t help but thinking about the brave young people who have been leading calls for protest for the last three years especially, from Ferguson to Florida, taking on various plagues of violence that affect our country.


Their prophetic zeal and stamina as they charge into the public arena trying to ensure that all people of all ages, all races, and all walks of life can enjoy the same civil liberties and freedoms and protections, and their recent eloquence and passion in demanding that our schools be free of gun violence echoes that of Jesus as he cleanses the Temple. In John’s gospel, Jesus performs this act at the start of his public ministry, the same as these young people are at the start of their adult lives. Jesus, too, encountered resistance from people who dismissed him, and questioned his authority to demand change. Jesus, too, encountered people who responded that it was their right to turn the Temple into a market place. Jesus, too, encountered resistance and hatred from those who stood to profit by the status quo.


On the streets of Ferguson and in cities across the US, our young people three years ago led the way in demanding that the same standards of justice and proportionality be applied to all people—that all persons, regardless of race or youth, have the right to be seen as members of the community rather than potential criminals merely on the basis of their race, and not be treated as “less-than” or receive harsher treatment at the hands of our law enforcement and justice systems. In the last two weeks, we have seen young people whose classmates’ deaths still are fresh in their hearts demand an end to the repeated waves of gun violence in our schools and communities, and demand common sense reform to end the waves of school shootings that have come with sickening frequency, particularly in the last twenty years. Some dismiss these young people for their youth, much as Jesus was as well. Yet they are the same age as many of the leaders of the American Revolution were, the same age as the Marquis de Lafayette and James Monroe were in 1776.


Jesus noted throughout the gospels that prophets are never honored among their own people. We are blessed to have young prophets among us, speaking truth to power and taking the lead themselves where adults, in all their wisdom, have thus far failed to find a path through to securing the hoped-for common good for all, a goal we have all too often admired, but not been willing to sacrifice to accomplish.


These youth are not just “our future.” They are our PRESENT. The children will lead us, and teach us the ways of peace, working through hope and a zeal for justice.




The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and priest in the Diocese of Missouri, currently hanging her vestments at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, when she isn’t serving as a supply priest. Her blog is Abiding In Hope.




Image: By Giotto di Bondone; [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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