“Faith, Lines and Dots”

Kurt Jacobson
7 min readMar 3, 2024


March 3, 2024

John 2:13–22

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 moneychangers 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 moneychangers 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.

Some years ago I was walking through a charming town square in Europe and encountered a living statue. At first, I did not realize it was a human being. I had to stand and stare to determine whether I was seeing a bronze cast statue or a living, breathing one. The final determination came when a passerby stopped, gave a wave and left a few euros at the statue’s feet. The statue winked at the donor and then returned to being a statue.

There is the story of a young woman who made herself up as a living statue of a bride and stood on a milk crate at a busy intersection in Boston. Many people stopped to check out the bright white bride. Some slipped her money and she in turn pulled a rose from her bouquet and looked into their eyes. Later, Amanda Palmer, the bridal statue would say those were intense moment of connection. She recalled numerous occasions of prolonged eye contact which led her to say, “Their eyes would say back: “Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.”

Fast forward to Palmer’s next unintentional human experience. This time she formed a punk rock band and made music videos. The talent caught the attention of a recording label company who offered her an attractive deal. That held, until the company took exception to one of the videos. They asked her to re-shoot it to make her belly look thinner. She did not refuse out of hand, but instead posted the video online. Immediately people began posting their own belly photos along with their own words directed at the recording company. Responses like: Love thy belly! Belly pride! This is what a belly looks like! An unintentional movement had begun and one fan gave it a name: the ReBellyon which turned into a mass online rebellion by people who take offense to judging body images and body weight.

Rebellion could be the title of this biblical account of Jesus entering the temple and reacting to the consumer-driven activity he encountered.

This temple story comes early in Jesus’ ministry according to John and right after Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. The other gospel writers include this story in the last days of Jesus’ life. For John, this event is at the beginning on which everything else builds.

Usually, this story is called the “cleansing” of the temple, but cleansing may not be the right word. It’s not like Jesus went around with a mop and dust cloth, tidying up the place so it would look nicer for those coming to celebrate Passover. He was not cleaning up the temple — he was overturning it. This is Jesus turning the center of cultural, political and religious life upside down. A rebellion of sorts.

There are many speculations about what caused Jesus to go ballistic in the temple that day. Certainly, he was angered at seeing this sacred space turned into a marketplace. Honestly, though, as a practicing Jew, should he not have been accustomed to this scene? Money changers and sacrifice salesmen were always there doing their best to cheat and scam faithful people coming to the temple — this was nothing new.

Something else seems to be happening and I wonder if it had as much to do with what was going on inside Jesus as what was going on inside the temple.

He may have seen it all before, but now he is seeing things differently.

In John, the temple overturning signals the start of something new. The massive temple structure would no longer be the center. The real action would happen beyond the temple doors, beyond the select men who managed the temple and outside of the system they had been maintaining for years. The main event would happen in the world where deep connection is possible at every turn.

In recent decades, Americans have become less likely to identify with any organized religion. Yet, a new Pew Research Center survey shows that belief in spirits or a spiritual realm beyond this world is widespread, even among those who do not consider themselves religious. The survey finds that:

83% of all U.S. adults believe people have a soul or spirit in addition to their physical body.

81% say there is something spiritual beyond the natural world, even if we cannot see it.

74% say there are some things that science cannot possibly explain.

45% say they have had a sudden feeling of connection with something from beyond this world.

38% say they have had a strong feeling that someone who has passed away was communicating with them from beyond this world.

30% say they have personally encountered a spirit or unseen spiritual force.

Overall, 70% of U.S. adults can be considered “spiritual” in some way, because they think of themselves as spiritual people or say spirituality is very important in their lives. (“Spirituality Among Americans” December 7, 2023, Pew Research Center

Author and Episcopalian priest, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish — separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” (An Altar in the World, p. 15).

At the temple that day, it is no wonder the religious authorities did not grasp what Jesus was doing or saying. The temple was the center of their lives. They could not imagine another way. How could they possibly understand the new temple being Jesus’ own body, his own life? An embodied faith was too revolutionary for these brick and mortar gatekeepers to grasp.

In my work with congregations in transition, I use an assessment and invite everyone to participate. One aspect of the assessment measures people’s spiritual vitality and the degree to which they believe their faith is central to their lives, rather than peripheral or episodic. The assessment asks questions about spiritual experience impacting how they look at life and whether spirituality is really the basis of their whole approach to life. The data from this question always ranks the lowest: “Although my faith is important to me, I feel there are other things more pressing in my life right now.”

This gets the attention of the clergy and church leaders in the audience. As fewer people participate in Christian churches and are not assisted in seeing how to take Sunday’s learning into Monday’s actions, I am not surprised people are failing to see faith as central in daily life.

We also know by the data that Americans experienced spiritual decline during the pandemic. There are other forces clouding people’s sense of spirituality. Today, the rise of Christian Nationalism, the anti-democratic notion that America is a nation by and for Christians alone threatens to bring about enormous changes in American civic life and dire division to American Christianity, separating more than connecting people looking for spiritual well-being.

In the temple that day, Jesus overturned a system that was doing more separating than connecting. From this early point in John’s Gospel, we will see Jesus more often than not outside of the temple, in the world, making connections, touching broken bodies, sharing in deep and meaningful conversation, welcoming the judged and excluded, loving those the religious people said not to love, sitting beside those who had no place in the temple. And through those connections, healing would happen, barriers would be broken and new life would be found.

What about us? Have we made the connection? Have we discovered that faith is less about drawing lines and more about connecting dots? Faith is not a category and following Jesus was never meant to be a religious activity. Faith is about daring to see God in the center of our lives as well as everything else, from the sun rises we witness to the work that we do and the connections we make in and beyond the communities in which we live.

Altars are everywhere — even on busy street corners where a painted woman waits to share a flower with us. (from The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, Grand Central Publishing, 2014).



Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.