The readings today are:
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22.
The first reading is the recounting of the Ten Commandments. The Gospel is the famous scene of Jesus chasing the merchants and money-changers from the Temple and proclaiming that the Temple would be destroyed and then rebuilt in three days. We’ve gone from The Law to Christ’s anger at the perversion of the holy place where The Law is supposed to be most paramount — and to Christ’s veiled prediction of His own resurrection (three days), after which we now know (but His listeners didn’t then) that He would institute an entirely new covenant that would not replace The Law, but would in God’s time supersede it.
Still, even knowing what eventually would result from Christ’s wrath at the Temple, reading about the scene all these years later has the power to make us cringe. It is a jarring scene. In most of the Gospels, Jesus is not prone to wrath, but to peace and to remaining cool and calm amidst the world’s turmoil.
Fortunately, the other two readings provide balm, and perspective. Psalm 19 is one of the most uplifting of psalms, and with two of the the Psalmist’s most familiar passages. Its entire message is about the goodness of the Lord, part of which is shown in the rightness of His statutes (the Law) — and another part in His response to our weak attempts to abide by those statutes. In a half-verse famously quoted by Lincoln, the Psalmist declares that “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” And the final verse is the oft-repeated plea that “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, o Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Then there is the Epistle, from Corinthians, which declares that the crucified Christ is seen as a “stumblingblock” for Jews and “foolishness” by Greeks. Yet, just as in Psalm 19, we must trust in the judgments of the Lord, for even “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is wiser than men.”
It is with that understanding — the understanding of God’s wisdom even when it makes no sense to us — that we should approach the scene at the Temple. Those at the Temple understood neither Jesus’ wrath nor the meaning of His promise to rebuild the Temple, meaning the entire edifice of God’s relationship with His people, in three days. If they had understood, they would have recognized that overturning the tables and causing other disruption (and even some short-term destruction) was not an end in itself, but a prelude to something much better and more fulfilling: a covenant of grace in which the Lord would provide new ways to be our strength and our redeemer.