(sermon note: 01-16 sermon note)
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 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. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 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.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a priest, a pastor, and an acolyte who were out fishing on a lake one day. While they were relaxing and shooting the breeze, the priest accidentally dropped his fishing pole into the water. “No worries,” said the priest. “I’ve got this.” He climbed out of the boat, stepped onto the lake surface, and walked across the water to retrieve it. The acolyte looked on in amazement: So much is the priest’s faith that he could walk on water! They fished for a while longer, then decided to break for lunch. As the pastor reached into his bag, the boat suddenly jostled and the bag splashed off the side. “This won’t take but a moment,” said the pastor. He stepped off the side of the boat, walked across the water’s surface to fetch the bag, and walked straight back. The acolyte couldn’t believe it. Twice in one day he had experienced a miracle! By virtue of their faith alone, the priest and the pastor were able to do what should be impossible! At this point, the acolyte was filled with religious zeal. In the face of such miracles, his own faith was overflowing. He grabbed his tackle box, threw it overboard, and jumped over the side of the boat and drowned. The priest leaned over to the pastor and asked, “Think we should’ve told him about the rocks?”
Sometimes it’s easy to be filled with passion, so much so that you might end up doing something you regret later on. And not just the passion that comes from drinking something alcoholic or taking something narcotic. No, the Spirit can fill us with a profound passion that is deeper than that found in a substance, especially when witnessing the work of the Spirit. You can’t blame that acolyte for trying to emulate the seemingly miraculous work of that priest and pastor. From his perspective, the Spirit was actively at work keeping the priest and pastor afloat and ought to have kept him afloat. Of course, it wasn’t the Spirit at work after all but rather a number of strategically placed rocks keeping the two men afloat. Passion has a funny way of blinding us to reality though.
Imagine being one of the money-changers seated inside the temple that one day, going about your business of selling sacrificial animals to be used in worship. Along came this man named Jesus and started overturning your tables and shouting at you to get out of the temple with your wares. This is a story told in all four gospel accounts but for whatever reason our account, John’s account relays it at the start of Jesus’ ministry instead of at the end like in the other gospel accounts. The people of Jerusalem likely hadn’t heard of Jesus and all his teachings and miracles. From their perspective, Jesus was just a zealous man determined to upend the legitimate business of the animal venders. Perhaps they had heard of his miracle at Cana and attributed his impassioned behavior to lingering drunkenness! We know Jesus hadn’t imbibed but the merchants weren’t so blessed. For all they knew, Jesus was coming off a multi-day drunken spree. Nevertheless, they heeded his tirade and took their wares elsewhere. They must have quickly realized that Jesus wasn’t on a drunken spell and his passionate behavior was grounded in reason.
The zeal of the Spirit is a great gift indeed. It empowers us to do things that we would be hesitant to do but certainly not regret doing. All of us are “blessed” with opportunities to witness unfairness and injustice in this world. Jesus wasn’t the only one given such opportunities. No, this world continues to find new and unique ways to take advantage of the less fortunate. People continually treat each other unfairly and without justice and it is left up to us to regulate and eliminate such unfairness and injustice. The temple vendors of Jesus’ day may have provided goods that enhanced worship experiences but they were also given opportunities to exploit people. And to have such opportunities sanctioned by the temple was something that Jesus just couldn’t support. Jesus wants us to love each other and treat each other fairly at all times. God loves us and treats us fairly or at least with justice. We ought to treat each other the same. Besides, temples or churches are places to gather and worship, not conduct potentially unfair business.
The Spirit enables and empowers us to confront unfairness and injustice in the world. To be filled with the Spirit, to have zeal, is something to be celebrated. We need zeal if we’re going to create, or recreate for that matter, a world that God intended for us. God doesn’t want us to be on guard with each other. God wants us to trust each other, trust that we want nothing but the best for each other. God certainly wants nothing but the best for each of us! And God wants us to serve each other. Well, serve him and then each other. And He wants us to serve and love zealously. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (12:11) We need much zeal and trust to love and serve and overcome the unfairness and injustice of this world. And with the gift of Spirit we can do it! We can have the same zealousness and passion that Jesus had in that temple so long ago! The Spirit is with us too! And remember the words of Paul in his letter to Titus, “he it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (2:14) Jesus gave of himself so that we might be passionate about doing good deeds for ourselves and our neighbors. The Spirit that was in him is in us too, have no fear.
As we continue on our journey through this season of Epiphany, let us give thanks for the zeal of the Spirit. Let us use it to seek out the injustice in our world and confront it and eliminate it. If Jesus can do it, then so can we! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.