St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Monday, March 02, 2015
There's a place for you here.
Weekly Bible Study
Preparing for Sunday, March 8, 2015 | The Third Sunday of Lent, Year B | Sign up for Weekly Bible Study emails | The Lectionary Page | Rector's Page | Printer-friendly guides
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.
It is important to know that those who were selling animals and changing money in the temple precincts were merely doing what was customary for Jewish worship. That is, animals were made available and sold to worshipers for temple sacrifices. And the money changers were doing worshipers a service by changing Roman coins that were stamped with the image of Caesar into imageless coins that would be acceptable for the temple tax. In other words, those who were selling animals and changing money were performing important, customary functions for worshipers in that day.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is a suggestion that price gouging was going on. Jesus refers to these people by saying that they have made the temple a “den of robbers.” Although that phrase is missing in John’s Gospel, it is possible that this is at least part of the reason that Jesus overturns the tables. However, it is probably more important to note that Jesus’ actions are highly symbolic. In just a couple of chapters, Jesus will tell the Samaritan woman that the hour is coming when it is not going to matter where people worship, because God is spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. One interpretation of Jesus’ symbolic overturning of the tables in the temple is that he is declaring the medium of sacrifice and imageless coins unnecessary. God may now be worshiped “immediately,” that is, without anything between us and God. The fact that the curtain of the temple was torn in two at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke), would reinforce such an interpretation. The curtain separated the people from the holiest place; thus, its rending would symbolize immediate access to God for all.
Still another interpretation is that this well-entrenched system of sacrifices and temple taxes had become so rote that people were no longer open to fresh revelations from God. Jesus is overturning everything, upsetting everything, as a way of jarring people into a new state where they might be able to perceive God’s presence and God’s actions afresh.
1. What do you know about “just going through the motions” in your relationship with God? When have you sensed that your religious practices had become rote or mechanical and no longer served as a means to open your life more completely to God? What rituals, practices or ceremonies no longer have meaning for you or even get in the way of your relationship with God? Can old rituals and practices be freshened and infused with new meaning?
2. Have you ever tended to think of God as a kind of vending machine – put in good works, pray regularly, etc., and God will grant you blessings? What is the difference between thinking of our religious practices as acts that bring about favors from God, versus understanding our religious practices as acts that open our hearts and minds to the reality of God’s blessings already with us?
3. Some have pointed out that Jesus is pretty harsh, even violent, in making his point – whip of cords, overturning tables, driving people out of the temple…. He could have chosen instead to be more diplomatic, sitting down with temple leaders and talking over the situation, for example. When in your life have you found that diplomacy just wasn’t going to work, so you had to use more drastic measures? What effect has this had on you and your relationships? How do you think it affected Jesus?
4. Can being consumed with zeal for God become a bad thing? Have you ever become so zealous for God that you neglected some of the people in your life?
5. Consider the following quotation by Bill McNabb from an issue of Wittenburg Door:
I had an old seminary professor who began and ended his apologetics lecture with one sentence: “You defend God like you defend a lion – you get out of his way.” God, it seems, has never had much trouble with his enemies – it’s his friends who give him fits…. The theologian Karl Rahner put it this way: “The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable.” Perhaps the best defense of God would be to just keep our mouths shut and live like He told us to. The Gospel would then have such power and attraction that we wouldn’t have to worry about defending it.
When have you hindered God or gotten in the way of God? Jesus drives out of the temple people who are coming between God and God’s people. When are we the ones who are coming between God and others? When are we helping God and other people draw closer together?
6. Jesus’ talk about the temple suggests that the dwelling place of God will no longer be in temples of stone but in human beings. Consider for a moment that you are a temple and that God, holiness, sacred beauty, dwells in you. … How does such a realization change how you go about your day-to-day life?
If you believed that all human beings were temples of God’s presence, how would you behave differently? As some have suggested, the ultimate blasphemy is to abuse another human being. People as dwelling places for God – how does that change everyday interactions?
7. From the New Interpreter’s Bible:
Christian faith communities must be willing to ask where and when the status quo of religious practices and institutions has been absolutized and, therefore, closed to the possibility of reformation, change, and renewal. The great danger is that the contemporary church, like the leaders of the religious establishment in the Gospel of John, will fall into the trap of equating the authority of its own institutions with the presence of God.
One pastor comments, “In system theory, past successes often stay on long past their usefulness. ‘Wrecked by success’ is a slogan I’ve seen used. Past actions that failed are quickly discarded. Past actions that work tend to be used over and over and over again. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ is another motto. (The latest form of this that I’ve seen is the title of a book: ‘If it ain’t broke, break it.’ The author argues that if you are not constantly improving your product, your service, etc., the company down the road will pass you by.)” (Brian Stoffregen in CrossMarks)
How might you apply these insights to your church? To your life?
8. Who are you in this story? Are you a money changer? A worshipper? A whipper? A whippee?
9. If Jesus were to enter the temple of your body, what would he want to drive out of you?
PRINT-FRIENDLY STUDY GUIDES
Would you like to receive email notification when this Weekly Study Guide is updated? Sign up here for the Weekly Bible Study email. We will not give your email address to anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Enter your email address below, and you will receive an email from Constant Contact, allowing you to confirm your choice.