The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle (John 2).
This is a disturbing image of Jesus in the gospel text for this week. Jesus made a whip of cords and “drove them out of the temple.” In the history of the communities of Jesus the interpretation of who “they” are has so often been destructive. In the first century the event was caught up in the bitter conflict between the Jews and the Christians. During the Reformation the scene is caught up in the bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Somehow, Jesus is always portrayed as the one on “our” side and judging “them.”
John Bell told a story at a session I attended some years ago. He was to lead a service in one of the prisons in England. He spoke of the struggle of “where to begin” with this group of men whose life experience would be in so many ways remote from his own. The part of the story I remember is his description of beginning the service with a simple spiritual song. It began quietly, his single voice in the large gathering. Then of other voices joining in. Then still others until the place was full of sound. The song? “It’s me, it’s me, O Lord. Standing in the need of prayer.” It served as a song of our human condition that broke down the boundaries of the “we” and the “they.”
Perhaps that is what our text this week is really about.
Below is a video to John Bell leading the song in quite another context. (You will need to click on the video and then follow the Youtube link to see it.)