Zeal For Your House Will Consume Me
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is an act of premeditated rage.
In our haste to divorce ourselves from the old, punitive image of a wrathful and vengeful God, we have at times come too close to domesticating Jesus.
We picture him with perfect hair in a clean robe always speaking softly and reasonably.
If we try to think about Jesus being angry, we might remember this story, when he drives the moneychangers from the Temple.
But our mental image of Jesus in this situation is him flying off the handle, losing his temper and abruptly descending into a violent tirade.
It turns out neither scenario is true. Jesus is not the mealy-mouthed meek and mild Sunday school picture, but nor is he a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.
Jesus sees what is happening in the Temple and decides, ahead of time, to use his holy anger as a sign to the people.
We know this because of John 2:15. It says, “Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”
“Making a whip of cords.” Jesus didn’t just show up at the Temple one day and start kicking over tables on the spur of the moment.
He made a decision to express his anger, and then went aside to make a whip of cords.
That took time. That took effort. He had to find supplies, for heaven’s sake.
How do you make a whip of cords? I don’t know, but it’s not something you toss off in ten minutes.
Jesus had a message to communicate, and he chose this dramatic and visceral action, almost like performance art, to convey it.
He loosed the reins on his passion and emotion for his people, and let his heart show.
It is at once intimidating—to think of Jesus committing premeditated violence, however justified—and deeply moving to see his vulnerability.
He is powerful here, but he is not remote.
He shows us directly what he cares about most—the people’s connection to God through God’s house. The house of God is the Temple, but as Jesus proclaims, it is also Jesus himself.
The disciples are clearly moved by Jesus’ emotion and passion in this moment.
It has built up and built up as he has witnessed injustice of a thousand kinds against his people, especially the poor, and coalesced into a firestorm within him as he made his whip of cords.
Then he unleashes it in the Temple court, and the disciples remember the words of Psalm 69:9: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
“Zeal for your house will consume me”—this phrase has multiple meanings.
On the most obvious level, the disciples are thinking about Jesus’ love for the Temple. For the Jewish people, the Temple is the literal, physical site of God’s presence among them.
Jesus respects and honors this tradition, while simultaneously adding a new layer to it.
He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” and the text says that the disciples later realize Jesus means the temple of his body.
So when we hear the phrase, “Zeal for your house will consume me,” we have to understand that Jesus will be consumed himself on the Cross.
And yet as happens so many times in our Christian faith, we have to acknowledge a holy paradox.
On the Cross, Jesus is like the burning bush in Exodus, out of which God speaks to Moses.
In Exodus 3, Moses leads his flock “beyond the wilderness,” and “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”
Jesus is simultaneously consumed and not consumed by the Cross.
He gives up his life and his strength completely, but his love cannot be conquered or destroyed.
He blazes forth with blinding radiance, changing the world forever with his self-giving.
So we know that Jesus allows himself to be consumed for the sake of his people, both in this story and on the Cross. But we can go even deeper into the resonances of what “your house” really means in “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Jesus has already built the bridge between the literal physical Temple in Jerusalem and his own body as the seat of the presence of God.
But we can go one step further.
“Zeal for your house will consume me.” Consider that statement in the light of 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
When we hear “Zeal for your house will consume me,” the house or temple referred to is the Temple in Jerusalem and Jesus himself. But it is also us.
We are the house and temple too.
Paul says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. And suddenly Psalm 69:9 takes on a whole new intensity.
When we hear, “Zeal for your house will consume me,” we have to understand that Jesus is talking about us.
Zeal for each individual person in this room consumes Jesus.
It gives him purpose.
You, your well-being, your transformation, your salvation, consume Jesus.
You are what he lives for, what he dies for, what he is raised up for.
We see in this gospel story what lengths Jesus is prepared to go to for his holy house.
See now this scene of the cleansing of the temple in terms of your inner space.
Jesus will not tolerate any kind of corruption or capitalism in your soul. He will come barging in and kick over tables in your heart to give you the chance to worship God in holiness and peace.
Because the temple is supposed to be an open and welcoming space. Jesus wants your heart to be an open and welcoming space, not just to God, but to the world.
Because what is our end goal here?
It is humbling to hear, “Zeal for your house consumes me,” and realize that Jesus is talking about us.
It awes us to realize the intensity and passion of his love for us.
But remember Jesus’ first instruction to us: “Follow me.”
We are not to just sit here and bask in the beautiful truth that Jesus was willing to be burned up like so much tinder to save us.
If we follow him, “Zeal for your house will consume me” has to become true for us as well.
What does that mean? What does it take to be consumed by zeal for God’s house?
I think the first temptation would be to treat the statement in the literal sense, like we might have done when we first read this gospel story.
We might assume that living out “Zeal for your house consumes me” ourselves would mean we are super churchy.
We show up at the church building a lot and serve on a lot of committees. Maybe join the altar guild or the acolytes.
All of those things are worthy ministries, but they don’t touch the deeper meaning of “Zeal for your house consumes me.” We have to take it much further than that.
First, we remember that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, just as Paul says.
Are we caring for ourselves in a way that honors that truth?
Do we behave as though we are sacred dwelling places of the Living God?
Do we care for our minds and bodies with consuming zeal?
Do we search for God’s presence within us and then try to live out of it?
And then we must turn to one another.
We have to apply “Zeal for your house will consume me” to every house of God we encounter, which means every human being we encounter.
That is the great challenge of discipleship.
In this gospel story we see Jesus go to great lengths in his love for God’s house. We see him lit up with passion, driving out injustice, and sacrificing his composure and his public standing for the sake of the temple of God.
Are we doing that for one another?
We do not want our Christian lives to be described by saying, “Zeal for your house shows up once in a while, maybe,” or “Lukewarm attention to your house consumes me, when it’s convenient.”
That’s not enough. It’s not worthy of the consuming zeal Jesus gives us.
This is the call of Lent: to see our fellow human beings as the very house of God, and allow ourselves to be consumed by zeal in our care and love of them.
Because there is great house of God that needs care: the whole Body of Christ, the collective dwelling place of God.
Very soon the Body of Christ will be called to die on the Cross, as Good Friday approaches.
Are we ready to be consumed for the salvation of the world?
If we say yes, Jesus makes us a promise: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
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Click here for a Lenten devotional on forgiveness.