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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting his "cowboy" on

People can take portions of scripture, hang their hat on them, and take them totally out of context.  Whenever they do this, they are in danger of missing the intent of the passage in which the portion of scripture resides.  The issue is not so much that scripture isn't able to stand on its own, but that we cannot make scripture stand for what we "believe" it should stand for.  An example of this is when Jesus used a whip to drive the money-changers out of the Temple one day toward the beginning of his ministry.  Many find this a fascinating passage simply because it seems to support some type of "flaw" in the character of Jesus - that anger was indeed something he "struggled" with. In reality, they miss the context of the passage.  It is the words which come as a result of his actions which are the issue in the passage - not his actions. His actions merely support prophecy and show the intention of his heart to have God's gathering place cleansed - the place where all of Israel knew they could come to commune with the One True God - now made a mockery of by those who sought to make money off of those who would come to offer sacrifices.  His chasing them out of the Temple was not a show of anger, but an impassioned plea to keep God's Holy Place holy!

Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” But the Jews were upset. They asked, “What credentials can you present to justify this?” Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together.”  (John 2:15-19 MSG)  

These men had set up shop in the courtyards of the Temple - essentially to line their coin purses with the hard-earned cash of those coming into the Temple to worship.  They counted on those who had come from far off and their inability to actually carry their lambs, turtle doves, and the like all the way from their homes in the region to the Temple.  We have to remember that there is but one Temple and at specific times of the year, the people made their pilgrimage to the city of Jerusalem to visit the Temple.  Their presence on these holy days were money making opportunities for those with a means to buy and sell those items required in the sacrificial offerings.  Jesus knew they weren't there to "make life easier" for the worshipers, but to make life more lucrative for themselves.  In this very action of driving them out, he was showing us the presence of God and the seeking of God is not to "line the pockets" of an individual.  Perhaps today's ministry leaders would do well to remember this when they make their pleas for monies and then expect to line their pockets FIRST.

The actions of Jesus in cleansing the Temple courtyards of these many who had swooped in like opportunistic vultures were not missed by the religious crowd.  The first set of questions began to arise as to the "credentials" of Jesus and why he thought his actions could override what the Temple leaders had allowed for all these years.  I think Jesus was after their challenge to his authority in order to begin to share the "elements" of truth he would establish all along the way in order to fulfill all of what scripture had said about his coming.  Their challenge - who do you think you are and what gives you the right?  His response - you will tear down this temple (my holy body), but in three short days, it will be restored (resurrected).  

His "credentials" were a foretelling of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior.  The Jews would crucify him for what they believed were actions challenging the very holiness and authority of God.  His response to them was that his actions support the holiness and authority of God - both today in the Temple courts and three years from now when you will crucify the one you will not call Messiah.  As is often the case, they cannot understand his intentions, see his heart, or connect with God's plan and purpose through his life.  This is what it is like to take only a portion of scripture and forget about the context in which it is written.  In order to connect with God's plan and purpose, we have to connect with him in totality.  Nothing can be left out - otherwise, we just get a glimpse of purpose, but miss out on the totality of what he offers.

He had just turned six huge stone jars of simple water into the finest quality of wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.  He goes to the Temple to worship along with the rest of his countrymen only to find the Temple desecrated by all this "salesmanship" of the money-changers and "sacrifice dealers". Imagine it for a moment.  You come into church and find the foyer cram packed full with men hocking their wares.  They each have inflated prices for what you know you could have brought from home at a fraction of the cost you will pay there.  You cannot enter into the congregational area until you have secured your "sacrifice" - no matter how small your means - you need the sacrifice. Bound by the "rules" of worship, you are obligated to buy.

I think Jesus may have been dealing with this sense of "obligation" to approach God in only one manner - through these prescribed sacrifices.  In just three short years, all that would change.  The "obligation" to have a spotless sacrifice would be met - not in what they could purchase, but in what he could provide.  His body would meet every need for atonement - none would need to feel obligated to approach God in the same manner again. Maybe if we focus more on his heart and less on his having made a whip out of leather, we might just see what he was revealing by his actions.  The Temple courtyards were filled with animals.  Do you know how most ranchers get animals moving?  Isn't it with the use of a prod or whip of sorts?  Why would Jesus be any different?  Do you think he should have just come in and shooed them out?  I wouldn't!  I would get my "cowgirl" on and be slapping my hand on my thigh, yelling for them to get up and move, and the like!

In order to see Jesus as the Messiah, those who had come to trust in the religious "duties" of worship had to begin to see him as upsetting their practices - changing them forever.  This wasn't popular to those who rigidly adhered to them or made a profit off of them.  So, they resist and they ask for his "credentials".  We may resist at times and ask for his "credentials" to require certain things of us, but if we stop long enough to consider his actions, we might just come to the conclusion he is really doing what he is doing for US and not him!  Just sayin!