The Jesus We’d Rather Not Talk About

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When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling.  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. Luke 19: 45-48

This passage shows a Jesus most would rather not talk about …a Jesus who doesn’t “fit” the image most have of him. This Jesus makes people feel awkward and maybe even uncomfortable. Jesus with a whip?  Jesus in anger mode?  In what theological category do we place this? Yesterday he was riding into Jerusalem receiving cheers from the crowd and high-fiving his disciples. Today, he is cracking leather, overturning tables, and scattering cattle and crowd alike.

We don’t see portraits of angry Jesus in the New Testament much. When we do, it’s usually anger at the Scribes and Pharisees for their lack of compassion. But he doesn’t chase them with a whip. He just zings a barbed comment that provides insight into their hypocrisy.

We prefer gentle Jesus, Jesus “meek and mild”, as the hymn says. But here is a side of Jesus that we need to pay attention to. In fact, we cannot avoid it. All four gospels record this story. But in Mark’s version, Jesus’ words help us understand why he acted as he did. Mark records Jesus as saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”. What’s the significance of that?

Jesus’ actions took place in the Temple outer court. This was where gentile converts to Judaism came to pray. Here people from all corners of the globe gathered to worship and seek the Lord.  But on this day it was a place of business…a Walmart for the Passover. They were selling animals, making currency exchanges, and allowing the outer court to be used as a short-cut through the city. The clatter and clutter was so great that it totally disrupted the worship of God.  Stunningly, all sanctioned by the very religious leaders who were dedicated to the integrity of Temple worship. When Jesus saw and heard it, he was angry and he acted.

This passage shows the passion of Jesus for worship of the Father and the extent he will go to eliminate anything that prevents it. Look at the language in this passage. It is strong language. He did not urge them to leave the Temple; he “drove” them out. When it comes to any artificial barrier which impedes the worship of God, Jesus has a zero tolerance policy.

Before we  “amen” too loudly let’s make sure we don’t do the same. The barriers we set up may not be cattle and coins but they have the same effect.  Barriers like spiritual arrogance, denominational pride, gender, age, and racial prejudices, and cultural preferences can suffocate the spirit of worship for any individual or group trying to overcome them.  Perhaps it’s time to invite Jesus to drive out any barriers we created, intentional or not, which hinder worship both on our campus and in our hearts.

-Dr. Darryl Harrison, Chief Academic Officer

Lord, remove from my life and our university any barriers that hinder free worship and full access to your presence, love, and grace. Amen