What’s this dude doing? A sermon on John 2:13-22 and Jesus turning over the tables (part 1)

Hi friends,

I recently had the chance to preach a guest sermon on John 2:13-22, the passage where Jesus flips over some flippin’ tables. 

Here’s the story, as the NRSV translation tells it:

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, with the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 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. 

Now, if most of what you know about me is that I wrote a whole frickin’ book about patriarchy in church, this may surprise you, but I’m not really the table-turning type. For those who enjoy the Enneagram: to the extent that I’m 1, I’ve got a pretty strong 9 wing flapping around out there too, whether I want it or not. 

So, this sermon is for those of us who aren’t necessarily naturally inclined to flip over some tables—but who recognize that there are some tables in our world and our communities that need to be flipped.

It’s also for those of us who—rightly so, I would say—have some questions about who should be taking the lead in the table-flipping business. (Perhaps it’s not those of us with a fair amount of privilege; perhaps there are helpful, supportive roles we can play that don’t center ourselves.)

That said, here’s the first half of the sermon. More to come soon.


I once knew someone who, when he was in middle school, thought he may have been the Second Coming of Jesus. 

This person wasn’t raised in a Christian home or context. So when a friend invited him to a church youth group, and people talked a lot about Jesus there—who Jesus was, and how the Bible says Jesus is coming back another time—he thought to himself, Maybe that’s me. Maybe I’m Jesus. Maybe I’m the second coming of Christ.  

It kind of blew my mind that he thought that. No shame if you’ve ever wondered that about yourself—but personally I can’t say I have. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got plenty of issues. But thinking of myself as a really great candidate for the Second Coming isn’t one of them.) 

I’m not Jesus. I’m clear on that. But sometimes when I read stories about Jesus in the Bible, I find myself tending to place myself, by default, in Jesus’ role. 

As I read our story from the gospel of John, I imagine what it might be like to turn over some tables. I read the story and think, Okay. Jesus got angry, and he did some kind of dramatic stuff with that anger. He was flipping over tables. He had some direct words to say: “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market.”

If we identify ourselves with Jesus in this story, we might find ourselves asking questions like these: Do we have this kind of zeal? Are we this passionate? And if not, why not? What keeps us from it? How God might be inviting us to express our own zeal? What might it look like for us to get out there and turn over some tables?

These can be good questions. I think they’re all good things to think about. 

But I think another valid question is this: Is Jesus the only person we’re meant to identify ourselves with in this story? Is he even the main person we’re meant to identify with? 

There are plenty of other characters. What might these events look like through their eyes, and what might we learn from that? If we place ourselves somewhere else in the story, what other kinds of questions might that raise for us?

I find myself curious how we might see this passage in a different light if we put ourselves not in the shoes of Jesus, but in the shoes of the people the text calls “the Jews.” And I’m going to replace “Jews” here with something more like “good religious folks”—because I don’t think the point is their specific Jewishness, at least not in a way that translates easily to today, but the fact that they’re sincere, well-intentioned people of faith. Perhaps not unlike many of us.

What happens when we imagine ourselves among these people milling about in the crowds in the temple courts? 

We’ve come to Jerusalem, to the temple, to worship. To celebrate Passover. We may have come from a long way away, a sort of yearly religious pilgrimage. Maybe we’re still dusty from walking miles and miles along dirt roads. 

We took this time off from our normal work (did we have much PTO? I doubt it). We temporarily displaced ourselves from our neighborhoods. We’re far away from the markets we usually shop at, far away from the comfortable familiarity of our homes. 

We set up camp on the outskirts of the city, along with vast hordes of others who have made a similar journey. We’re exhausted but excited too. 

We’re happy to be together in this place where so many of us are here for the same reasons, we share the same religious cultures and customs, we’re here to worship God. We’re happy, and we’re also tired, and dirty, and a little disoriented from all the disruptions of our normal rhythms of life.

And now we’re here at the temple, joining in the hustle and bustle and excitement in the temple courts. We want to worship. We want to express our devotion to God, and that happens through animal sacrifice. But we weren’t able to bring animals all that way with us on our journey. Or maybe we don’t have animals. Maybe we don’t have much money. 

It’s okay; or at least, if we have some money, it’s okay. We can buy the animals for sacrifice here.

But so many of us are here, and so many of us are out-of-town-ers, and the people selling the animals know this. They know we don’t have a lot of options. They know we’re only here for a short time and we want so badly to participate in worship. And because they know all this, they can—and do—charge whatever they want. 

We mumble and grumble about it, but we count our coins. There’s not much else to do. 

We go to the money-changers first, because the currency of our hometowns isn’t the same as the currency they use here in Jerusalem. Then we take our newly-exchanged coins across the courtyard to another table and buy what we can. 

The system demands it. And we’re good religious folks. We want to be faithful to God. We want to be fully included in our religious community and stay in good standing with it. 

Can we imagine ourselves among these people?

Then, just as we’re handing over our precious few coins to a merchant in exchange for a dove —the least expensive animal to sacrifice—somewhere behind us there’s a noticeably bigger commotion than usual. We turn around, and there in the middle of everyone is this rabbi-looking dude we hadn’t seen before. 

What’s that in his hand? Is it a makeshift whip? That must be why the sheep and cattle are moving out of his way. 

What’s that look in his eyes? Is that anger? He grabs a bag of money from the money-changers and pours out all the coins on the ground.

What’s he doing, and why? At first all we can hear is indistinct yelling. Then his voice starts to rise above the crowd, and we start to make out what he’s saying. Out! Out! Everyone out! We’re done here. No more selling. No more buying. This is my Father’s house, and you all have made it into a marketplace. This is the holy temple of God, and you all have made it into a place of business. Take your doves. Take your money. Take your sheep and oxen, and go! Now! 

We hear a crashing sound. A table is on its side that was upright just a moment ago. Coins scattering everywhere, clinking against each other as they fall to the ground. The merchant who was seated behind the table is standing now, a shocked look on his face. It all happened so fast.

What is going on? What is this rabbi so upset about? 

Could he be as frustrated as we are with this whole system where we’re basically forced to spend more money than we can afford, buying animals from these people who inflate the prices just because they can? Could he be angry on our behalf? Could he be standing up for us?

It kind of seems that way. It doesn’t really seem like his anger is directed at us. But he’s still telling us all to leave. And now he’s turning over another table, a big one. It crashes on its side with a dramatic cracking sound.

This rabbi is serious. He’s really serious. 

And he’s disrupting everything. He’s ruining the whole point of why we came here, to offer sacrifices as our act of worship. 

We don’t really like this system either. We see that people are being exploited—that we are being exploited. But it’s just the way things are—isn’t it? It’s the way things have been, our whole lives. We don’t really see another way to do it. We don’t see it changing anytime soon. 

Did he have to cause such a commotion? Did he have to disrupt the whole thing?

And really—what makes him think he has the right to do that? Who gave him the authority? Who does he think he is?


I’m going to cut it off here for now and be back with more soon. 

In the meanwhile, I wonder what kinds of thoughts this exercise in imagination brings up for you. How does it change things, to put ourselves in the shoes of these good religious people, watching Jesus turn over some tables? What might we have been thinking? How might we respond? 

Wishing you peace, different perspectives, and space for thoughtful reflection this week,


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