Earlier this year on a Sunday morning I was making my daily commute from home to church; you know that loong walk from the condo next door, about 20 or 25 yards (depending on my route). It was about 8am and since it takes less than a minute to get from home to the office, there’s really not much time to think about anything else. No use listening to music or trying to read a book. From the moment I leave home I’m usually in work mode, I’m focused on the church and I’m not really thinking about my “commute”. But on this particular morning in January, when I stepped out the front door I did happen to notice something out of the corner of my eye. I could tell there was somebody standing on the sidewalk. He was a tall, young man - looked to be in his twenties - standing just outside our gate on the sidewalk. I noticed but I didn’t really think anything of it. After all, Hancock Street is pretty busy and there’s almost always pedestrians coming and going.
So it wasn’t until I opened the gate and I realized that he was still just standing there, right next to me, that I bothered to take a closer look. And when I did those little hairs on the back of my neck began to tingle. He was tall, really tall. He looked strong, really strong. His fists were clenched, and his body was rocking back-and-forth. And what really bothered me was his eyes. He was looking at me but seemed to be staring through me. His eyes looked blank.
I said, “Are you okay?” No answer, no reaction. I looked down and noticed that he was only wearing a sweatshirt and shorts. It was a cold morning with ice on the ground and he was shivering. So I said, “Do you need anything? Can I help?” Still no answer. But his eyes suddenly changed. He was now clearly staring at me. His body tensed. And I could tell what was coming next. I took a large step backwards as he (somewhat clumsily) lunged towards me and began swinging his fists like a windmill.
Now, some of you know that I was a boxer in college at the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!) but that was a long time ago. And I’d never boxed anybody that big. More importantly I was wearing my work clothes - dressed like a priest. So I’ll be honest, one of my first thoughts was that I didn’t want to have an article in the newspaper that read: Local Priest Fights Disturbed Man in Front of Church!
Thankfully he wasn’t very coordinated. Something was obviously wrong with the guy so I just started walking backward toward the church and I kept my eye on him. If you’d happened to be there early that morning you would’ve seen quite a treat. You would have seen your priest walking backwards down Hancock St., pointing my finger at this young man, and sternly repeating, “No. Stop it.”
By the time I reached the church he lost interest. He just turned around and began walking the other direction. I was honestly concerned that he might hurt himself as much as anyone else, so I called the police and told them where he seemed to be heading. I don’t know what happened to that young man but I can tell you this: my adrenaline was pumping and my heart was racing like a jack-rabbit.
The whole situation was a good reminder. On that day, it was a good reminder for me to be more aware of my surroundings - even Sunday mornings on Hancock Street; perhaps even Sunday mornings here at church (!). Today, it’s also a good reminder for all of us, that until we’ve done business with that kind of image - a whirling, powerful, fist-pumping kind of image - until we let ourselves feel that kind of impact, we haven’t done business with the Jesus of the Gospels.
Today Jesus goes to the Temple at Passover because he’s a good citizen and a faithful person. In a world where politics and religion were deeply connected, going to the Temple at Passover was kind of like showing up at the polls on election day, celebrating Independence Day, AND worshipping at church. Jesus shows up when he supposed to. And when he does, he sees everybody else doing their normal routine.
That includes all those merchants doing their normal business in the courtyard - they’re exchanging money so religious pilgrims who have traveled to the Temple (like Jesus) can buy their Temple sacrifice. It’s what they do (even if they happen to be charging a premium). And even though he’d been to the Temple before, many times, this time Jesus goes ballistic. He launches into a rant, telling those merchants: “this is a house for doing business with God, not for doing business with yourself!” (Jn. 2.16). And then he tears through that Temple courtyard like a whirling, fist-pumping disturbed person.
He “drove out” the merchants, the buyers and sellers - even the animals - and the way the Gospels describe it is the same way they describe Jesus driving out demons. He’s treating everyone in the Temple just like demons. It’s shocking, and even a bit disturbing. And when John’s Gospel adds that nice touch about a whip made of cords, Jesus sounds a lot more like Indiana Jones than Mr. Rogers or Dr. Phil.