March 7, 2021
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 2:13-22, The Message or John 2:13-22, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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I'm somewhat confused as to why the designers of the Lectionary chose this passage from John when there is a perfectly good parallel in Mark, and Mark is the prime Gospel for Year B.
In any case, this text is a good time to once again warn against the tragic antagonism toward "the Jews" that is in our Holy Text, and in our blood stained history.
Malina and Rohrbaugh (See footnote below.) provide a crucial correction to the mistranslation of the Greek text which refers to "Judeans" not "Jews."
At the time of Jesus, the people we today call "Jews" referred to themselves as "Israel." "Judeans" were the people of Israel who lived in the region of Judea. "Galileans" were the people of Israel who lived in the region of Galilee.
But since the capital city, Jerusalem was in Judea, and the Romans primarily dealt with the elite living in the capital, they referred to everyone as Judeans regardless of which region they were from.
But Judeans regarded Galileans as hillbillies. We see this in the comment, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?" (John 7:14)
The Gospels are filled with antagonism between Jesus of Nazareth - the Galilean - and the Judeans - NOT "the Jews."
In fact, in most cases, wherever you see "the Jews" in your Bible, you would do the world a lot of good, if you would cross it out, and write in with black, indelible ink, "the Judean elites."
See what happens to this passage if we read it with the question, "Does 'Judean' refer to everyone or to the Judean elites? If it is referring to everyone, then let's use, "people of Israel,' and otherwise let's use, 'Judean elites'"
Here's what would change in this passage:
The Passover of the (the people of Israel) was near
The (Judean elite) then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"
The (Judean elite) then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?"
Without making this change, it is all too easy to read this lesson with a sneer on our lips, with an inherited mind set of separation of followers of Jesus from "the Jews." But excuse me, in this passage, aren't Jesus and his followers all "Jews," all people of the house of Israel?
So as followers of Jesus today, we need to read this with the same tone as all Jews tell about the Passover to this day - in the first person plural, present tense: This is our Passover; we are celebrating our God liberating us from our oppression and our slavery. This is NOT about other people in some other place and time.
Second, we might want to begin reflecting on this passage as Jesus' disciples did when they remembered that it was written:
Zeal for your house will consume me.
Note that this verse says, "Zeal FOR your house;" not, "Zeal AGAINST your house."
But note also what the full verse says:
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
Thus the actions of Jesus are remembered by his disciples as taking on the insults - and the shame of being insulted - that has been directed at God, and then honourably taking actions to restore God's honour.
So Jesus' actions need to be understood as actions FOR the Temple as God's house, not against it.
Exchanging Roman coins for Temple coins, and buying ritually clean animals for sacrifice were necessary activities for the Temple. These exchanges allowed faithful, observant people of the house of Israel to follow the laws of God by trading necessary, but unclean, everyday goods needed to live in the world of Roman occupation into Temple goods that could properly be offered to God in thanksgiving and praise.
But it is precisely this accommodation to the "real politicks" of the Roman occupation that has led to inevitable corruption and collusion. And this is what Jesus' actions are against; this is what makes his actions FOR the Temple as the house of God, and AGAINST corruption and collusion by Judean elites with the Romans which are insulting and shaming God.
In asking for a sign, the Judean elites are doing what every person responsible for social order ought to do: If someone suddenly starts acting like a Holy Man - over-turning tables; stampeding cattle - the right thing to do is ask for their license, "show us a sign." Showing them a sign would have been like showing a parade permit issued by the proper authorities: I can do this because a higher power has given me permission to do this.
But of course, in John, the whole point of the whole book of John is to SEE Jesus, and in particular to see God's glory, which will only be revealed at the right time in the right way - through Jesus' death and resurrection. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." This isn't exactly the sort of sign the Judean elites were asking for.
Indeed, it would heighten their estimation that Jesus was dangerous; a potential rebel leader. And as they well knew, revolts again Rome were futile and bound to bring bloody reprisals - as did in fact happen about 30 years after Jesus.
For more on "seeing" Jesus and signs in the Gospel of John, see my note, Introduction to John.
Just as Jews continue to read the Passover in the first person plural, present tense; I wonder how this passage would sound to us if we read this as Jesus' cleansing our places of worship today? Are there any habits we might have fallen into which are insulting God?
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 72-75; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
John 2:13-22 (NRSV)
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 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.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 2:13-22 (The Message)
13 When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. 14 He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength.
15 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. 16 He told the dove merchants, "Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father's house into a shopping mall!" 17 That's when his disciples remembered the Scripture, "Zeal for your house consumes me."
18 But the Jews were upset. They asked, "What credentials can you present to justify this?" 19 Jesus answered, "Tear down this Temple and in three days I'll put it back together."
20 They were indignant: "It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you're going to rebuild it in three days?" 21 But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. 22 Later, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this. They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.