11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
Reflection March 18, 2018
The Incident in the Temple by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
The Gospel incident that leads directly to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion is the incident in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15–19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-16). What’s unusual about John’s account is that the incident takes place very early in Jesus’ ministry, immediately after the Wedding Feast at Cana.
In the other three Gospels the Temple Incident takes place during Jesus’ final week before his execution on the cross. In Matthew’s Gospel and in Luke’s Gospel, the Temple Incident takes place on Palm Sunday. In Mark’s Gospel, it takes place on the Monday of the final week.
I mention this just so we are aware of what is written in the Gospels. One of the great difficulties we Christians face is ignorance regarding what is actually in the Bible. Many of us think we know but we can easily get confused if we are not deeply immersed in the Bible.
What Jesus is proclaiming with the Incident in the Temple is that those who are crooks, those who rob from others, those who oppress others should not come to the Temple pretending to be holy! Don’t come to the Temple pretending to be righteous. God sees your heart. God knows! You cannot escape your guilt by coming to the Temple. As I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon, at the time of Jesus the priests of the Temple were in direct alliance with the Roman authorities (The Roman authorities named each of the chief priests). The Temple priests had to sacrifice animals every day in honor of the Roman emperor. The priests were collaborators in the profound oppression of the Jewish people by the hated Romans.
Jesus stands in a long line of prophets who decry those who think that coming to the Temple and offering sacrifices will absolve them from their serious sins of oppression and injustice. (See Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1:11-17) …
As I just mentioned, the Temple authorities collaborated with Rome. When King Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple, he placed a large golden eagle in the Courtyard of the Gentiles. The golden eagle stood for Rome and for the god Jupiter. Herod did this to assure Roman authorities that it was a pro-Roman Temple.
Just before the time of Jesus, some Jewish rabbis convinced their students to hack the eagle off the Temple wall because it was a pagan abomination. About 40 young men tried to take down the eagle. They were arrested and then burnt to death. The Temple of God had been transformed into a kind of pagan temple. No wonder Jesus shut it down!
Jesus states clearly that any who collaborate with the evil forces of the world should not believe they can hide out in temples, or in synagogues, or in mosques, or in churches. (From The Word Jesus Had Spoken, March 8, 2015)
Those of our beloved fellowship who are young are probably blessed with the grace of optimism. Is this not so? I certainly felt optimistic in my youth. But now that I carry the substantial weight of many years, optimism has somewhat evaporated. I feel closer to these words from the Australian writer, Morris L. West in his autobiography, A View from the Ridge: The Testimony of a 20th Century Christian: “What do I believe about humans? I believe that they are malicious creatures. I believe that they are improvable but never, never perfectible. I believe that brutality debases them and only love and respect and forgiveness can ennoble them … I believe human existence is harsh and dangerous, and there are no easy answers to its dilemmas.” (edited)
West continues: “We have to admit, first to ourselves, and then, very humbly to each other, that we live at the heart of a (deep) and dark mystery.” But here’s the thing: The One who will judge us most finally is also the One who loves us most fully. I’m certainly willing to be judged by the One who came among us because of the outpouring of divine love …
Yet why do we Christians so easily present to our world a God of vengeance and wrath? It baffles me! Why do so many Christians get energized by apocalyptic doom? This is why it is so very important to understand what is contained in the Book of Revelation (next Bible Study will be on Wednesday, March 21, 11 am with coffee and donuts provided!)
Let end with a quote from Sister Wendy Beckett (the art historian - seen on PBS whom I met some years ago): “Sometimes I blush for those who think themselves Christian and yet the God they worship is cruel, suspicious, punitive, and watchful. Who could love such a God? If that is your idea of God, you are obliged by all the rules of morality and common sense to become an atheist. I have the greatest admiration for atheists, because by definition, they have rejected a false God. The true God, if you have the privilege of knowing the true God, you cannot reject him.” (From Coming to the Light March 15, 2015) Amen