Formations 04.05.2020: Zeal for God’s House

John 2:13-25

I’m writing this article in a time of trauma all around the world. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has reached every continent except Antarctica. People are sick, scared, isolated, and anxious for what lies ahead. Restaurants are closed, with some offering takeout or curbside service in hopes of staying afloat. Movie theaters are closed. Theme parks are closed. Aquariums and zoos and libraries are closed.

Churches are closed.

At a time when people most need and long to be in God’s house, the sanctuary and Bible study rooms are empty, the lights are off, and the doors are shut—all in the interest of discouraging people to gather and potentially spread the dangerous, unpredictable disease even further.

But a small miracle has been happening since the churches had to shut their doors. My Facebook feed the past two Sundays was filled with worship services: singing, preaching, Scripture reading, instrument playing. If we have a zeal for God’s house, this is one of those times when we can know for certain that being church together doesn’t require a building. It doesn’t even require that we be together in person.

Jesus had a zeal for God’s house—so much so that he couldn’t bear it when people misused the space for their own gain. In our lesson text, the image of a physically angry Jesus may be troubling. Many of us are more accustomed to the peaceful Jesus of calming words and loving touches. But this raging, violent side of him is important too. He is fiercely protective of God’s house.

In these dark times of a worldwide pandemic, there are churches whose leaders are defying the pleas of medical experts. They are insisting that God will protect them as they gather together. I have to wonder if this would make Jesus angry. Would he come in and turn over music stands and pulpits? I think he might. Having a zeal for the church means protecting the church.

May we remember that the church is the people of God—not a particular space or set of observances or order of worship. In times like these, we need the church. And we have it, no matter where we happen to be.

Discussion

• What is happening in your community at this time? When it comes to social distancing and sheltering in place, is there an end in sight?

• What do you miss the most about your normal life routine? How are you coping with these losses?

• Have you been able to attend church virtually by watching videos or reading Bible study lessons? If so, what has this meant for your spiritual well-being in these dark times?

• Why do you think some people engage in risky behaviors with the assertion that God will protect them? How do you think Jesus would react to this?

• If church is still closed when you read this, make a commitment to participate in worship in some other way. Remember that the church is the people of God, no matter where they happen to be.

Reference Shelf

[A]fter an introduction[, our lesson text] (v. 13) falls into two parts, 2:14-17 and 2:18-22, each climaxed by a reference to Jesus’ disciples remembering. The first (vv. 14-17; cf. Mk 11:15-18)) focuses on what Jesus does:

The circumstances: sellers of animals and money-changers are in the temple (v. 14).

Jesus’ response in deed (“and making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen, and he poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables,” v. 15) and word (“And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade,’” v. 16, cf. Zech 14:21b).

The disciples remembered the Scripture: “Zeal for thy house will consume me” (v. 17, cf. Ps 69:9).

What Jesus does is to render temple sacrifices impossible. M. Shekalim 1.3 says that money-changers serve to change coinage into the shekel required for the temple. T. Shekalim 1.6 says money-changers in the temple “exact pledges from those who had not yet paid” so public offerings might be made that atone for Israel’s sins—after analogy with practice in the wilderness (Exod 30:16). So money-changers were essential to the system of atonement for sin. They were not blemishes on the cult but part of its perfection. Jesus’ action called into question the very system. The overturning of the moneychangers’ tables represents an act of the rejection of the most important rite of the Israelite cult, the daily whole offering (J. Neusner, “Money-Changers in the Temple: The Mishnah’s Explanation,” NTS 35 [1989]: 287-90). “The purging of the temple…signifies the destruction and replacement of the system of religious observance of which the temple was the centre” (C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958], 301).

The second part of Unit One (vv. 18-22) is concerned with Jesus’ authority for acting in a way that rendered temple sacrifices impossible (i.e., his resurrection).

The challenge: “The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign have you to show us for doing this?’” (v. 18; cf. Mk 11:27-28).

Jesus’ response: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19; cf. Mk 14:58; 15:29; 13:2; Acts 6:14).

Jewish misunderstanding: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it in three days?” (v. 20, cf. 3:3-4; 4:13-15; 4:31-34; 6:41-42; 6:52; 7:33-36; 8:31-33, 8:56-57; 11:11-14; 12:32-34, for a misunderstanding motif in John; cf. Hermetica 4:6; 10:6-7; 12:15-16; 13:1, for such a technique outside John).

Clarification by the narrator: “But he spoke of the temple of his body” (v. 21; cf. 1:38; 1:41; 1:42; 4:2, for other explanatory comments).

The disciples remember: “When he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (v. 22).

When the Jews demand to know his authority for rendering temple sacrifices impossible, Jesus appeals to his future resurrection. How can his resurrection legitimate non-involvement in Jewish temple worship? The answer comes in the Nicodemus episode that follows.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 99–101.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (15) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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