Sermon - Sunday, 4 March 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 4 March 2018.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25 / John 2: 13-22

Text: So Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money- changers and overturned their  tables.                         (John 2: 13-15)


The 16th century painter, El Greco, captures the scene beautifully.

Set in a corner of the outer precincts of the Jerusalem temple, an area called the courtyard of the Gentiles, El Greco depicts a bare-footed Christ dressed in a full length scarlet gown standing amid a scene of violent confusion.

Holding a whip in his right hand Jesus’ arm is stretched across his chest and his hand is raised above his head.

At his feet the half naked figure of a trader recoils in fear, his hand and arm raised to defend himself from the threatened blow.

The emotional energy of the painting is ugly and highly charged and because it is so far removed from the compassionate Christ, lamb draped across his shoulders as he searches for the lost and the least, the teaching Christ with the crowd gathered around him or the prayerful Christ seeking a moment of quiet solitude, this image of the angry Christ is deeply disturbing.

Yet however uncomfortable, John is insistent that the same Jesus who would later ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water, heal a centurion’s servant and feed a great crowd with a few loaves and fish caused uproar in the temple.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem

In fact Biblical scholars have wondered about the scale of the disturbance.

With pilgrims thronging the city for the Passover festival, they have reasoned that Roman soldiers would have been stationed at the Antonia fortress adjacent to and overlooking the temple mount.

The fact that Jesus’ actions did not bring them running to quell the uprising has led many scholars to suggest that the uproar was not as great as the gospels would have us believe.

Whatever the scale of the incident, however, the fact all four gospel writers saw fit to record what happened suggests they thought it to be of significance.

And at least part of the significance was the fact it happened in Jerusalem’s temple, described by one commentator as the beating heart of Judaism.[1]

As the beating heart the temple was not just the focal point of religious life and political power, it was also the meeting place between heaven and earth, for Jews revered the temple as the place where Israel’s God promised to dwell among His people.

So it is no surprise to read that on reaching Jerusalem Jesus made his way to the temple.

If his message about the kingdom of God was going to be heard, it needed to be heard in the temple and if the change he looked for was going to come about, it needed to come about in the temple.

And given its place as the beating heart it is no surprise that Jesus’ actions attracted the attention of the temple authorities.

So what was it that provoked Jesus’ anger?

The fact that it was the Passover season provides a clue.

During the Passover the Jews would visit the temple to make the appropriate sacrifices.

And just as we change money at the bank or post office into Euros or dollars before going on holiday, the temple traders changed money into the temple currency so that Passover pilgrims could purchase doves for the sacrificial offerings and a lamb for the Passover meal. 

Rather than anything they did, I wonder if it was what their trade represented that so upset Jesus, the old divisions between clean and unclean, insider and outsider, the very fact that the temple was divided and subdivided separating Jew from Gentile, women from men, ordinary people from priests, the High Priest from everyone else and all this division in the very place intended to be the shining light of God’s care, concern and love for all nations.

Then or now Jesus will have none of it.

Throughout his ministry Jesus refused to recognise the boundaries and barriers that we create to separate one group from another group.

Throughout his ministry Jesus refused to treat some people as more important to God than other people. 

Soon we will read of a woman who grabbed his cloak, a leper who approached him for help, a man who was born blind, a woman who anointed his feet, a boy with an evil spirit, a crippled man lowered through the roof of a house, a woman brought before him and accused of adultery, a widow breaking her heart over her dead son, Jairus pleading for his daughter and the sisters Martha and Mary mourning the loss of their brother.

And one of the things that we will learn is that in all his dealings with people Jesus made no distinctions.

He did not separate the good from the bad, the godly from the ungodly, the righteous from the sinner, the male from the female, the Roman from the Jew, the Jew from the Samaritan as though some were more precious and deserving to God than others.

Indeed, his failure to do so was one of the biggest of his accusers’ complaints.

And so in the season of Passover, a festival that celebrated liberation, freedom and rescue from enslavement, John’s Jesus, already introduced in the opening section of the gospel as the Lamb of God, takes a whip in his hand driving out the traders and placing the temple and all it represented under God’s judgement.

Jesus will not be stifled by the old ways but will do things differently and will treat people differently, especially the lost and the least ………and in his presence they will find healing, forgiveness and the gift of new life.

All of which leads me to ask about the church today;

what kind of church is it that refuses to be confined by the barriers and boundaries that human beings create for one another?

what kind of church is it that will not treat some people as clean and others as unclean?

what kind of church is it that will dare to risk meeting people in their need with God’s gifts of healing, forgiveness and new life?

We live at a time of great uncertainty, economically and politically.

We live in an era where the celebrity is the icon and the prevailing culture is characterised by entertainment.

We live at a time when an aggressive secularism threatens to silence the voice of Christian faith.  

Today the figure of an angry Christ stands among us, his arm raised and whip in hand, because he knows better than we know ourselves that in these challenging times the temptation for the church and its people is always to retreat back into the old ways and the old divisions, inward looking, defensive and protective.

Uncomfortable as it is, the image of the angry Christ scattering the coins of the money changers and driving the traders from the temple confronts us with a powerful and insistent reminder that our calling is always and everywhere to be a people of prayer, a people of concern and a people of love for all nations.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen


[1] Tom Wright  John for Everyone Westminister John Knox Press, London, 2002 p25