This is not the behavior that one expects in church. For hundreds of years, people had been coming to the temple. Trading their dollars into shekels, because the temple merchants didn’t take dollars. Going to the ATM because the prices were more than they expected. Then buying a lamb or two doves and handing it off to the priest so that the priest could go into the temple itself – where no one but priests went – and make a sacrifice for them. Then the Levitical choir would sing a song and the people would say a few amens and go home. It’s called doing church. Right?
So, Jesus comes – remember thousands of people over hundreds of years have done church one way, that is with changing money, buying a sacrifice, and trying to sing along with the Levitical choir – and what does he do? He certainly doesn’t do church. He upsets the money changer’s tables. Kicks out the merchants with their sacrificial animals. Tells the choir not to sing. To make matters worse, he doesn’t give much of a sermon. He says, “Destroy this temple and in three days, I’ll raise it back up.”
One has to believe that Jesus does church differently. Imagine if he were to come here today. What if he told you to rip out the pews and throw them away? Now, this is Jesus. You would obey. You realize that in Jesus’ day, the churches and temples didn’t have pews. Pews weren’t common until the 1400s. Maybe Jesus doesn’t want us to have pews. The organ also came into our worship space in the 1400s. Would Jesus want us to have an organ? How about two candles on the altar? Bulletins? Clergy?
Jesus remembers what the original purpose of the temple was. When Solomon built the first temple, it was meant to be a house of prayer for all the nations. Jesus saw how what the merchants were doing blocked people from praying. What about church today? What blocks people from praying?
Go one step further. What is blocking your church from being what Jesus wants it to be today? There are three questions that I think help us to know what Jesus would change if he were to visit us today:
1) What is the real nature (or purpose) of this church?
2) Where is society taking us?
3) How can we do God’s will in this moment?
There are many other questions that could be asked, but I am convinced that these are the right three. They point us towards the fundamentals. They challenge our tendency to always do the same things over and over. They keep us from idolizing our organs, our pews, or setting up ATMs in our sanctuary.