We’re Going Back to the Future (Lenten Lectio Reflection: John 2:13-25)

“When this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Doc Brown
Back to the Future, 1985

It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.

Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”

Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, many believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs that he did. But Jesus didn’t trust himself to them because he knew all people. He didn’t need anyone to tell him about human nature, for he knew what human nature was.
John 2:13-25 (CEB)

The story of Jesus clearing the temple is a very popular one that is retold in all the gospels. Since it’s the one moment when we see Jesus with some righteous anger, he pops up off the page here as more than just the doe-eyed sage we see in many depictions. The element of this story as recounted in John that jumps out at me as I read it now is not so much about Jesus but about the disciples. There are two references to the disciples remembering something that intrigues me. The first memory spark comes with the scriptural reference made here that the other Gospels do not make. In the other Gospels, Jesus is typically quoting from the books of Jeremiah and probably Isaiah.

“He said to them, ‘It’s written, My house will be a house of prayer [Isaiah 56:7], but you have made it a hideout for crooks [Jeremiah 7:11].'”
Luke 19:46 (CEB)

In the Gospel of John, however, Jesus does not quote directly from Scripture (maybe allude to, but not quote). Instead the author puts a different spin on the story and has the disciples recall scripture by the actions of Jesus. It is the disciples who recall , “it is written, “Passion for your house consumes me.” A quick Google search will tell you that this comes from Psalm 69. By the disciples remembering this verse, the author of the Gospel of John seems tell us that we should as well. This is almost like a more subtle version of when your pastor might say, “Everyone turn in your Bibles too…”. So, let’s take a quick look at a section of Psalm 69.

I have become a stranger to my own brothers, an immigrant to my mother’s children.
Because passion for your house has consumed me, the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me!
I wept while I fasted—even for that I was insulted.
When I wore funeral clothes, people made fun of me.
Those who sit at the city gate muttered things about me; drunkards made up rude songs.
But me? My prayer reaches you, Lord, at just the right time.
God, in your great and faithful love, answer me with your certain salvation!
Psalm 69:8-13 (CEB)

Insults, feelings of exile, mocking and rude songs are all being unjustly launched at someone who has a passion for God’s house. This person weeps, fasts and wears funeral clothes. It seems like the author of the Gospel of John is connecting Jesus with this Psalm. Indeed, if you read the rest of the Psalm it is very Jesus-y. It even has the line, “They gave me poison for food. To quench my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink,” (v. 21) which seems to echo in Jesus crucifixion experience of receiving sour wine (see John 19:28-30). So these actions of Jesus at the temple cause the disciples, and us as well, to look back to their tradition, history and Scriptures to understand Jesus.

But, there is another moment of remembering. The author spoils the story a bit this early in the gospel and tells us that his disciples would later remember these words of Jesus at his resurrection.

Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
John 2:19 (CEB)

Here we are in Chapter 2 and the author of the Gospel of John has given us the Cliff Notes to the story. Not only is Jesus going to die…but he’s going to be resurrected. All this will happen probably within a three-day time frame.

At the beginning of the Gospel, as Jesus cleanses the Temple, the author of John has not only recalled us back to the history of Psalm 69 but also pushes us forward towards the resurrection. At the beginning, the author invites us (as disciples) to remember by looking back to the Psalms and then casts our memory forward when we remember at the resurrection.

Past, present and future come crashing together in these verses.

My fellow blogger, Phil Majorans, who writes over at Abstract Cathedral, recently wrote this about prayer and Lent:

To enter the space which prayer inhabits is to enter “God time.” A space where intellect and understanding yield to the mystery of it all and the wonder that all could be well, and the thought that all will be well when time and space collapse…One is invited to participate in this space through prayer, a foretaste of the “timelessness” that is to come, a ‘timelessness” that is already present in the form and presence of the ascended Christ. In some sense, to pray, is to step outside of time and space. This is one of the reasons that prayer is such an important part of Lent. Reflecting on “God time” helps us step outside of “our time” and its violence, hopelessness, and lack of cosmic perspective.”
From the post, Putting Pain in Perspective: Reading T.S. Eliot During Lent

In our practices of Lent (fasting, prayer, service, worship, etc.) we attempt to step out of time and see past, present and future from God’s perspective. We unite ourselves with the ancient author of Psalm 69, we see Jesus’ prophetic ruckus in the Temple and we experience his resurrection at the same time. The past is just as important in the present, we exist and embrace the here and now, but we have a peek into the glorious future where Christ is victorious. Like our Jewish brothers and sisters see themselves in the Exodus story, the author of the Gospel of John invites us to see ourselves in the redemptive story that is about to unfold before us. We step out of a story and time defined by ourselves to enter a story and time defined by God. We are not to simply read and understand, but to step into and become part of the story.

Because when you do, like Doc Brown said (pardon the colorful language), “you’re gonna see some serious shit.”

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