Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fresh Eyes: Jesus Cleansing the Temple

John 2:13-22

Like many of you, my attention has been captured in these last days by the matter of 'the dress.'  You
know the one I'm talking about: that one which is making its rounds on the internet these days and has captured the imagination of early morning news hosts.  That dress which is clearly white and gold. At least to my eyes.  Indeed, we find ourselves in a state of consternation when we discover that our friends and family members and co-workers see different colors altogether.  At least I know I find myself more than a little puzzled by it: how two of us can look at the same image and see something entirely different. As the experts have tried to understand and explain this phenomenon so that the average person can understand it, one even offered that actually 'color' doesn't exist.  It is all in our minds.  We simply see what we see.  While I am not at all convinced of the truth of that explanation, it is hard to understand, isn't it?  Especially when 'color' has always seemed so obvious.

Now I am not color blind. At the same time, I am not color confident, if you know what I mean.  I prefer to wear dark colors and to paint my walls in neutral tones of beige or white.  It is only with the strong encouragement of others that I have stepped out of my comfort zones in either place.  Even so, I will probably always be most comfortable with neutral tones which have no chance of clashing or offending.  Bright, bold colors always do feel a little risky to me.  I don't know  --- perhaps that is why I 'see' white and gold when I look at 'the dress.'  And yes, I can't help but wonder if that is also sometimes true in the rest of my life.

One could argue whether Jesus is seeing bright bold 'red' or whether his comprehension of what is before him is simple 'black and white' when he enters the temple in John's telling today.  Either way, he is surely 'seeing' something which others no longer see or have never been able to see or for the sake of  protecting the powerful or not 'rocking the boat' have simply chosen not to see.

One wonders how it is that Jesus 'saw' what no one else could or would.  How could his perception have been so radically different that he would act with such forthright certainty to make right that which was so wrong.  And yet, we do recall that the temple held precious memories for Jesus.  It was the destination where every Jewish child knew he or she would make at least one pilgrimage in their lifetimes. It was the place where he had gotten so caught up in conversation with the teachers when he was a small child himself, that his parents lost track of him. To be sure, unlike any who had come before, this was his home before any other home for he understood it to be his 'Father's house.'  So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Jesus would show his outrage at what things had come to there. For it appears this holy place had become, for some at least, a place of business transactions. Indeed, some believe that the surcharge for exchanging money into currency which was suitable for temple offerings was so exorbitant that the poor were not able to afford to encounter God in that place in the way that it was customary to do so. And that would have been entirely contrary to God's intent. Whatever the case may have been, clearly Jesus saw all of this as standing in the way of it being the holy place it was meant to be.  And when Jesus comes face to face with it, he sees red.  He throws the money changers and those selling sheep and cattle and doves for sacrifice into chaos.

And so I wonder now.  How is it that you and I can develop the eyes of Jesus?  How do we gain sight or insight which is not content to turn away or to ignore or explain away that which gets in the way of others encountering the Holy One? How do I gain the courage or the will to see 'bright colors' which yes, sometimes will offend, even as they inspire?

Surely one of the ways to do this is to invite others with 'fresh eyes' to tell us what they see and experience in the 'temple' where I serve.  It may be those newest among us.  Or those who have been away a while.  Or children. Or simply someone who does not necessarily agree with me.  While they may or may not actually have 'eyes of Jesus,' even in their questions and observations they are likely to challenge or point out what I have failed to see or no longer experience because I have grown accustomed to the 'way it is.'  Oh yes, as we listen for the voice of Jesus in stories like we encounter now and in the experience of others?  Maybe we start to see in new ways.

For no, in fact, there is no way to know what barriers stand in the way if we fail to ask those who have experienced them.  As one of those with a privileged place in the place that I live and serve, I am not likely to actually see or experience it myself.

Now of course, even as I wonder this, I am aware that in this life our 'temples' may never be entirely clean. Even so, it seems to me that as we encounter Jesus' outrage today, the call is also ours to seek to see our lives, the lives of others, the 'temple,' and this whole wide world in which we live with the eyes of Jesus and to do what we can to rid it and us of all that would get in the way of others encountering God.  Oh yes, sometimes it our call is to 'see red,' it seems to me. At least when it matters so.  

It's a funny thing.  I posted the picture of  'the dress' above even before I was finished writing. As my words filled the page and I was scrolling further down, I found myself catching the image of the 'dress' out of the corner of my eye.  And do you know that for the first time it actually appeared to be blue and black to me?  I don't know what color 'the dress' actually is.  But when I look at it from another angle?  It does seem to change.
  • So what then might it look like to see the world, our congregations, or our very lives from the angle or perspective of Jesus?
  • What might it mean to look with fresh eyes at our sacred institutions --- especially our churches ---  and to be a part of 'cleansing them' so that others might more fully encounter God?
  • How do we get such 'fresh eyes?' Where might you turn to acquire the perspective necessary to see with the eyes of  Jesus?


  1. Hi Janet
    I'm enjoying your blog posts lately. Thanks for your insights and the willingness to publish them! My attention's been caught by the quotation from Ps 69:9, about zeal, and in reading the psalm, have, for the first time, seen it as the prayer of a religious fanatic. Perhaps Jesus had been meditating on this Psalm? It's also cited in other places by NT writers. Is this a sort of 'jihadist' story? In our current political climate (I'm in Canada) we are being encouraged to see this kind of behaviour as dangerous, reproachable and criminal. How can we be zealous and yet sane? Passionate and yet peaceable?

  2. It looks as though your last question was cut off before you finished it! Didn't know if you saw that or not!

  3. I am responding to the question about what it might mean to look at our churches with 'fresh eyes.' Last fall we asked several of our newer members, as well as some of us older members to speak to our congregation on various topics related to hospitality, giving and just what we like our our church. It was quite moving to hear what others had to say! Several of our newer members spoke to me later and said how encouraging it was to hear what some of us older members had to say, especially regarding a renewed sense of joy in reaching out to assist children in our neighborhood school! Thank you, Pastor Janet, for your weekly writings and for getting us to dig deeper into our faith!