As is often noted, there are two versions of story of Jesus clearing the Temple. The one that is most often cited comes from each of the three synoptic Gospels, in which Jesus, either immediately after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or shortly there after, drives out the money changers in preparation for a week of ongoing debate with the Pharisees and Scribes that will ultimately end in his arrest, torture, and death. Less often studied, albeit read every three years on Lent 3B, is the version from John’s Gospel. In John’s account, this story takes place on the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry. It follows on the heels of Jesus calling his first disciples and performing his first sign by turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.
While the synoptics point to the prophecy of Isaiah as Jesus’ motivation – “Why have you turned my Father’s house into a den of robbers?” – John looks instead to the Psalms. Psalm 69.9, to be more specific. As Jesus’ newly minted disciples look on in what can only be a combination of fear, horror, and exhilaration, Psalm 69 is recalled to them, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.” Clearly Jesus is consumed. Clearly Jesus is zealous for the Lord’s house. But why so much energy? And why so early?
It would seem that the Gospel writers were avid proof texters. Often, in all four of the Gospels, we hear references to a passage or two, even the merging of two or more passages, of the Old Testament, used to satisfy some piece of the larger story. What is also true, however, is that they knew that story much better than we do. They had been hearing the accounts of the Hebrew Bible since their childhoods. They had sung the Psalms again and again from their youth. It seems reasonable, then, to assume that when a passage of scripture is referenced, they assume the reader/hearer knows the fuller story. When John has the disciples recall Psalm 69.9, it isn’t just about the zeal that Jesus has for his Father’s house, but it is the fullness of the story of the Psalmist.
In this case, since it comes so early in Jesus’ ministry, the reference to Psalm 69 and the zeal of Jesus serves to foreshadow what is to come. As we work through the season of Lent, marching ever closer to Holy Week and Jesus’ Passion, the words of Psalm 69 ring with meaning.
V. 3 “I am weary with crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”
V. 4b “many are those who would destry me,
my enemies who falsely accuse me.”
V. 15 “Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.”
V. 29 “I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.”
V. 33 “The Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.”