Waiting for a Miracle/Overturning the Tables

Wine After Dinner | Church of the Redeemer, Lent 3 | John 2.13-22

You can find the full liturgy here.

by Brian Walsh

In the last verse of “Waiting for a Miracle” Bruce Cockburn sings:

Struggle for a dollar, scuffle for a dime
Step out from the past and try to hold the line
So how come history takes such a long, long time
When you’re waiting for a miracle

These are amongst my favourite lines from the Bruce Cockburn songbook.

How come history takes such a long, long time,
when you’re waiting for a miracle?

Cockburn had in mind peasants in post-revolutionary Nicaragua when he penned those words:

hanging on for dear life in the midst of the contra war,
struggling for the most basic economic means of survival,
waiting for the miracle of Nicaraguan liberation.

But he could just as easily be describing folks in the basement of this church

every day of the week, getting a free meal,
and then going back out onto the street to struggle for a dollar,
scuffle for a dime.

Folks with a broken past that cripples them, haunts them,
and so they are waiting, day in and day out,
for the miracle of life coming together,
the miracle of a job, maybe a family, maybe a place to call home.

So how come history takes such a long, long time,
when you’re waiting for a miracle?

Or maybe this longing, this struggle to keep it all together,
is your life, my life.

Stepping out from the past,
living with broken memories, broken covenants, broken hearts.
And in the midst of all that brokenness you’re just trying to hold the line,
just trying to keep body and soul together,
and you’re waiting.
Waiting for some sort of resolution,
waiting for hope to be justified,
waiting for a miracle.

The power of the poetry is in the breadth and depth of its resonance.
And these lines resonate so well.

In fact, I think that maybe these lines would also have resonated
with the folks in the Jerusalem temple that day when Jesus made such a scene.

Here they were,
struggling for a dollar, scuffling for a dime,
or more specifically, struggling for a denari, struggling for a drachma
and then scuffling to get fair exchange on these currencies,
as they struggled to pay their tithes and offerings in recognized shekels.

But there was more going on in the temple than just currency exchange
and the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice.

They were also stepping out from the past and trying to hold the line.

I mean, here they were, in Herod’s temple,
built under the watchful eye of the Roman authorities,
subject to imperial administration,
and the very built structure of this temple reminds them of a past that has failed.

Every time they walk into this temple,
they recall the temple of old.
Every time they come to pay their tithes and make their sacrifices,
they are burdened by the memory of broken covenant.
Every time they come into the presence of the Lord,
they can sense the absence.
Every time they come to the house of the Lord,
they remember that the glory departed,

God left home and has not returned.

And so they come to the temple for the festivals,
especially the festival of Passover,
and they are waiting for a miracle.

Waiting for a new Passover,
waiting for a new exodus,
waiting for a new liberation from empire,
waiting for the restoration of Israel,
waiting for the promises to be fulfilled,
waiting for the glory of God to return to the temple,
waiting for the Messiah to come,
waiting for this house to become home.

And history takes such a long, long time,
when you’re waiting for a miracle.

Waiting for the glory to return.

“And the word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of the father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.” (1.14)

So this glory,
this word-made-flesh glory,
full of grace and truth,
returned to the temple.

If folks had been waiting for a miracle,
if folks had been waiting for a resolution of their broken past,
if folks had been waiting for the glory to return and make this house a home,
if folks had been waiting this house to be restored as a place of prayer for all nations,
then this was the moment.

But what does the glory do when it returns to the temple?
He overturns the tables,
and brandishing a whip,
he chases the money changers out of the building,
disrupting the daily business of the temple.

How come history takes such a long, long time,
when you’re waiting for a miracle?

This the fulfillment of these deep longings?
This is the resolution, the redemption that was promised?
This is the path to liberation, the new exodus?
This is the way that the glory returns?
This is what homecoming in the house of the Lord looks like?

We tend to call this event the cleansing of the temple.

And on one level that is right.
This is the feast of the Passover, and before Passover, the house must be cleaned.
And so Jesus is cleaning house.
Passover remembers the exodus liberation from Egypt.
And when you are about to embark on an exodus journey you have to travel light,
and therefore all that would encumber you needs to be discarded.
It is time to clean house.

It is time to also clean house because a house full of oppression and deceit,
a house accommodated as Herod’s temple was, to the imperial authorities,
can never be a house of welcome,
can never be a place of justice and hospitality,
can never be the site of the homecoming of God with the people of God.
So Jesus cleans house.

But this is more than cleaning house,
This is a kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.
The light shines in the darkness, John tells us,
but sometimes you gotta kick at that darkness so the light can shine through.

In the passage before this text, at the wedding feast of Cana,
Jesus tells his mother that his hour has not yet come,
but somehow you know that it is near.
Somehow you know that the time is short,
……‘don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by?’
and as this story unfolds, it becomes clear that these shortened hours
……bespeak a dangerous time.

And here in the temple, Jesus lives dangerously.
His zeal for the Father’s house is dangerous,
his actions are criminal.
But ‘nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight,
gotta kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.’

John interprets all of this with a citation from Psalm 69:
…‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’

Bruce Cockburn might sing,
“Voice of the Nova, smile of the dew,
all of our yearning only comes home to you.”
All of our yearning only comes home to you.
You, Creator God, are our home.
Our yearning for home, our restlessness,
our longing, our waiting for a miracle,
only comes home to you.

Zeal for your house will consume me.
Zeal for homecoming in the house of the Lord will consume me.

And so the chorus sings, “O love that fires the sun, keep me burning.”

And here in the temple that love that fires the sun,
that love that gives birth to the universe,
that steadfast love that fills all things,
manifest in the Word through whom all things were made,
that creation calling love that is made flesh in their very presence

overflows into a zeal for the house of God,
overflows into a zeal for homecoming,
that will strike out with wrath and anger
at all forces of homelessness,
all forces that will serve to keep us from our true homecoming,
all forces that will inhibit the miracle of true liberation,
regardless of how religiously pious or ecclesiastically sanctioned
they might be.

[Let those with ears, hear. Let the listener understand.]

So this is more than a cleaning of house.
This is declaring that this house, this liturgical regime, this compromised religiousity,
can no longer be a site of homecoming.

While the other gospel writers build the tension of the narrative
up to the conflict in the temple,

John begins with this conflict.

We are waiting for a miracle, and John makes it clear that this miracle
finds no home in Herod’s temple,
so Jesus overturns the tables,
disrupts the financial markets,
and interrupts a worship that will keep the people numb and subservient.

And the leaders, recognizing that only one who is making some sort of Messianic claim
could dare engage in such sacrilege,
ask “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
What kind of sign might you be able to produce that will convince us that you have the authority to do such an audacious and blasphemous thing?
Because only God could authorize such an act!

And as will become his wont, Jesus offers a near to incomprehensible answer:
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

On one level this is a seditious and ridiculous statement about the destruction of the very temple in which they stood.

But more profoundly, as John will clarify, Jesus speaks here of his death and resurrection.

What sign do I offer?
Nothing at the moment.

But wait.
Wait for another miracle.
Wait for a return visit to this temple, to this city, before these religious authorities.
Wait just a few more weeks until the end of Lent.
Wait for Holy Week and bear witness to a crucified Messiah.
Wait for Easter and bear witness to a resurrected Lord.
Wait, because cross and resurrection is the path home.

Two thousand years, and half a world away,
dying trees still grow greener when you pray.

Dying trees. Crucifixion trees.
Grow greener. Bear new life.
And call us back home.

Jesus walks into the temple and overturns the whole damn thing,
because he is driven by a zeal for God’s house.
When he returns to Jerusalem during Holy Week,
he will say, “in my father’s house, there are many rooms.”

Jesus throws people out of the temple,
and invites us all into his father’s house.

And like all good homecomings,
there is a feast in that house.
A feast of bread and wine.
A feast that remembers the cross, in the miracle of the resurrection.

This is a feast of mystery,
and this feast of beauty can intoxicate,
intoxicate,
intoxicate.
This feast of beauty can intoxicate,
just like the finest wine.

The feast is ready.

Welcome home.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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