It was business as usual.
He was speaking of the temple of his body. The religious people that day just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that he was talking about the temple of his body because they were about business as usual. It was business as usual that day when Jesus showed up at the temple. Animals were being bought and sold. Coins were being changed. All the usual people had their usual places and usual roles.
This is one of those stories that we need to set aside a couple of things, things that don’t belong, or that distract us, before we can get to grips with what was happening. We need to set aside what we have been told or thought this story was about so we can hear it again, maybe for the first time.
I don’t think this story is simply about Jesus getting angry. Jesus got angry. I get angry. It’s ok to get angry. That misses the point. There’s more to this story than about the animals or the moneychangers being in the temple. Jesus surely had to have known they were there. He grew up as a faithful Jew going to the temple. He didn’t show up this day and think, “Wow! There are animals and moneychangers here. This is wrong.” The animals and moneychangers had always been there. That’s how the system worked. It was business as usual for them to be there.
I believe Jesus went to the temple that day for one purpose; to throw out and overturn business as usual. There are times when we need the tables of our life overturned and the animals thrown out. It’s just so easy to fall into the trap of business as usual.
Have you ever pushed the auto-pilot button, you go through the motions but you’re not really there. Have you ever smiled that I’m-good-and-everything-is-fine smile but behind the smile there was an emptiness, you felt hollow, and your heart was breaking? That’s carrying on with business as usual. Or perhaps you wake up in the morning and you are as tired as you were when you went to bed. Have you ever felt like you were just not yourself? Nothing seemed right. There was no enthusiasm, wonder, or imagination. It was just business as usual. Sometimes we look at life and the world and it all seems in vain. We’re busy but not really getting anywhere. There’s no depth or meaning, only business as usual. It can happen anywhere: in friendships, marriages, parenting, work, church.
The things I described are not, however, the problem. They are the symptom in the same way that the animals and moneychangers in the temple are not the problem. They are the symptoms of something deeper going on. The problem is not so much in the temple as it is in the human heart.
That deeper issue is, I think, what gives rise to business as usual. Sometimes it’s about our fear. We’re fearful about what is happening in our life or the uncertainty of the future and we want some type of security and predictability, we want the vaccine so we can keep on doing the same old things. Business as usual is predictable and steady but it creates only an illusion of security. Sometimes it’s a symptom of our grief and sorrow. Something has been lost. We can’t get back the life we want so we cling to business as usual because it’s familiar and we want some stability. Other times we are so busy and worn out making a living that life turns into one task after another, one appointment after another, a never ending to do list. Perhaps we’ve taken people, relationship, and things for granted. Maybe we’ve lost our sense of gratitude, wonder, or mystery. I do not say any of this as a criticism or judgment. I’m just naming what often happens to us.
There are thousands of reasons and ways in which we fall into business as usual. There’s one thing, however, that I keep coming back to. Forgetfulness. Business as usual is born of forgetfulness. We forget that we really are the temple of God’s presence and that all of creation is the home of God. We forget that in whatever direction we turn, there is the face of God gazing upon us. As soon as we forget those things about ourselves, each other, or the world, life becomes business as usual.
I think that’s what happened in the temple. They didn’t see themselves or one another as the true temple of God. It was all about the human built temple, the animals, and the coins. They had forgotten that God was more interested in them than in their festivals and that God wanted them more than their offerings.
When we forget that we are the temple of God life can easily become a series of transactions. Relationships and intimacy are lost. Priorities rearranged. Making a living replaces living a life. Life becomes a marketplace rather than a place for meeting the holy in ourselves and one another.
That’s what Jesus was overturning and driving out of the temple. In the gospel according to John this happens at the very beginning of Jesus ministry. The Word became flesh, water became wine, and now the temple is becoming human. And it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the rest of the gospel Jesus will be interrupting business as usual.
Remember the Samaritan women at the well, she had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. Despite what we have done to her, that’s not a statement about her. Her first husband died, divorced her, or ran off. Who knows? What we do know is, it was improper and dangerous to be women without a man. Business as usual meant she had to belong to a man. So there was a second man, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth. Jesus met this woman at the well and interrupted business as usual. It’s not about the man or men in her life. It’s about her. Jesus recognised her as the temple of God. She was the well of living water.
How about the man who spent thirty-eight years on a mat, paralyzed and always trying to get into the pool of water that would heal him but someone always got there first. The same ground, the same mat, the same paralyzed legs, the same failed effort. It was thirty-eight years of business and usual. Then Jesus came and said, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” And the man did, and business as usual was again interrupted.
Then there was Lazarus. He had already been dead three days. Martha knew the stench of death was present. Jesus told her it would no longer be business as usual. “Take away the stone,” he said. Death will not have the final word. “Lazarus, come out.”
Also let’s not forget the five thousand people that showed up empty and hungry. Philip was sure there was not enough. There was no way to feed them. Empty and hungry people are business as usual. But Jesus had other plans. Two fish and five loaves were more than enough. Everyone was satisfied and twelve baskets were filled with leftovers. It was not business as usual for the empty and hungry.
Over and over again Jesus interrupts, overturning, and throwing out business as usual. It’s destructive of our lives and relationships. It destroys our ability see and participate in the holy that is already present in and among us. The Word became flesh so that the temple might become human. Jesus continues to overturn and throw out business as usual because the truth is there, there are still Samaritan women waiting at the well in our world today. There are still lame people grounded by business as usual. Empty and hungry people are still a reality in our world and there are dead people waiting to be made alive.
Maybe for us today this isn’t about other people. Maybe we are the women at the well. Maybe we know what it’s like to be grounded and paralyzed. Maybe we are empty and hungry today. Maybe we need to be called to life. Maybe business as usual needs to be interrupted in our life.
Regardless of who we are, what we’ve done or left undone, or how we see or judge our life, we are the temple of God and there is one who stands in the temple of our life interrupting business as usual. What does the temple of our life need today? What tables in our life need to be overturned? What animals need to be driven out?
I am not asking about what needs to happen so that we can become holy or become the temple, but so we can see that we already are the temple and claim what is already ours. Jesus does not make us into something we were not. He calls us back to who we’ve always been.
He was speaking of the temple, of our body.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 07/03/2021