“Justice for All”

Kurt Jacobson
6 min readMar 7, 2021

March 7, 2021

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 market-place!’ 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.

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Among the many changes that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into our lives is the opportunity to think about how we define and “do” church. What is church, these days? Is it the livestream service we watch on a computer or mobile device? Is it the coffee gathering after worship via Zoom? The virtual bible study? However, you envision and experience church, you know it has not been “business as usual.” For better or for worse, global circumstances have forced us to change. To question. To, I hope, deepen our comprehension of what “church” means.

For many people, the locked building and the inability to gather in our churches to worship has been disappointing. We wish we could go back to how things were. Yet rather than remain disappointed or fixed in frustration, this is a time to consider the possibility that God might be presenting the people of faith an invitation to reimagine and grow in understanding who we are and how we are the church of Jesus in this point in time. Might it be that God is leading us as the body of Christ, the people of the Church, to ask the most basic, ground-level questions about what we are doing, and why?

In the Gospel today, Jesus forces exactly these kinds of questions. The is a difficult and perhaps even offensive account of Jesus in Jerusalem at the temple. He is dramatic, forcing us who wish to keep the view of a tender and patient to see him making “a whip of cords.” He drives out of the temple the animals that have been brought for sacrifice. He overturns the moneychanger’s tables, pouring coins all over the floor and telling them to stop making his Father’s house a marketplace.

Those witnessing this angry Jesus are stunned. They ask for a sign to authorize his violent actions, Jesus does not bat an eye: “Destroy this temple,” he dares them, “and in three days I will raise it up.”

Not exactly gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

Biblical scholars offer varying interpretations of this dramatic scene and Jesus’ shocking words. Some posit that what Jesus calls out in his “cleansing” of the temple is not only corrupt practices of ancient Judaism and its various forms of worship, but a system of exploitation via exorbitant tithes and taxes that blocked equal access to the divine. These practices kept the poor outside the gates of the temple. When they did try to arrange the tithes and pay the taxes, it forced them into more and deeper debt in order to approach God.

Other scholars believe that what displeased Jesus was a Sabbath-only form of piety, one that separated the rites of the temple from holy living, or a compartmentalization of faith that renders the temple “sacred” and the home “secular.”

Could it be that in some ways, our practices of “church” have perpetuated this separation of sacred and secular? Think about it. We “go to church” on Sunday mornings and enter a “sanctuary” — a place set aside to be separated from the woes of the world. Sitting comfortably in this place we view as holy, we feel the presence of the Divine. All this comes after a week of daily demands, stresses, and challenges. As worship begins we are asked to recall our sin — those things right things we failed to do and the wrong things we did do (sins of omission and sins of commission). So, we confess our sins and receive forgiveness. Later on, we take in the “Body of Christ” via communion, put $20 in the offering plate (or $50 if it has been a good week) and go home feeling better. Back into the secular world.

Could it be that our understanding and practice of being the church has developed into a practice of personal piety? When church becomes primarily a safe place, providing comfort and assurance, rather than calling and sending people out as “little Christs” to make His justice and mercy known to all, it fails in its God-given mission. The church then is in dangerous water of becoming a place of showboating, not fishing for people.

These varying interpretations of Jesus at the temple that day are compelling. They point to a deeper and more unsettling truth about the one we call “Lord.” Jesus has something far more important in his mission than allow people to practice their own piety and protect the status quo. Jesus shows clearly that he has no interest in propping up institutions of faith that elevate comfort and complacency over discipleship and justice.

The Jesus we encounter in this Gospel is a disrupter. A leveler. An upender. As his disciples immediately realize when he throws out the moneychangers and occupies the temple, zeal is what animates the Messiah. Fervor, not casualness. Depths not surfaces. He will not tolerate the desecration of his Father’s house. He is not impressed by “marketplace” faith.

Where does this leave us as Christians and churchgoers? What can we carry away from this disturbing story as we move deeper into Lent, a season of penitence and self-examination?

Perhaps we can begin by asking honest questions about our reactions to the story itself. How do we feel about Jesus’s words and actions in the temple? Are we disturbed by his anger? His actions? His zeal? If yes, why? What cherished version of God, church, piety, or worship does Jesus threaten in this narrative?

After nearly a year with church buildings closed in many places, what are we passionate about when it comes to our faith? What passions do we want to see our churches take up once again when we have the ability to assemble and reorganize? Are you eager to return to what was, to defend and protect that which was comfortable a year ago? What are we zealous for as members of the body of Christ? Is zeal even a possibility? Or have we settled for a way of being Christians together that is more rote, safe, casual, and comfortable than it is driven by Christ’s mission, compelling, challenging, and transformative?

This Gospel reminds us that Jesus — the temple of God — burns with zeal for his Father’s house. He does not use love and forgiveness as palliatives. In the temple that day, Jesus interrupts “business as usual” for the sake of justice and holiness. His love for God, the temple, and its people compels him to righteous anger.

Whenever the pandemic winds down, churches open and we find ourselves free to return to “business as usual” on Sunday mornings, I hope we will pause and remember Jesus, who upended the temple when it forgot how to be the Father’s house. Perhaps then all who yearn to assemble to worship together in church buildings will burn with the passion that that animated the whip-wielding, coin-scattering Christ. Post-pandemic, we must settle for nothing less than churches that have a zeal for the mission of Christ and his justice for all.



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.