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The second chapter of the Gospel of John, is where we find two commonly remembered events. In the first, Jesus of Nazareth attends a wedding with his birth family, and when the wine runs out, creates a lot more out of some water. In the second, he visits the Temple in Jerusalem and becomes very perturbed at their behavior. But for some reason, in neither case is it commonly recognized, that here we have the Lord making a physical wreck of very close and personal Jewish practice, first within a community, and second at the very Temple itself.
Let's take the first, first:
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
So there were six large water jars, at the place of this wedding. The place was clearly used for different things: weddings, and also "rites of purification": there was at least one large bathtub here, where men and women were required, by Jewish law, to bathe, after which they were to consider themselves "clean" unto God Himself. Those water jars were there for just one purpose: to hold the water for that sacred bathing. Not just any bathing, but "holy bathing", bathing they thought absolutely essential to being holy and righteous and good. The jars were extremely clean, smelled of nothing at all, and whenever they were filled by those servants, they were filled with clear, clean water.
And these were the jars which suddenly were filled with wine. Wine which smelled like wine, tasted like wine, permeated the ceramic of the jars, and most certainly, was not water for purification anymore. Even after all of the wine was poured out of the jars, even after being rinsed out dozens of times, there would be stains.
At first just the servants knew. But can you imagine the people in charge of the place, when they found the servants taking hours off of their regular duties trying to scrub those jars?
This was a gentle wreckage. But a wreckage nonetheless. Six big jars explicitly designated for sacred practice, no longer useful as they had been, is not an irrelevance. The Lord did not care for this sacred practice of theirs. By their principles, He defiled it. Of course, His principles are the only ones that matter, theirs and ours do not. And I think He may have laughed. It was a wedding, after all, and He provided them with more than a hundred gallons of top-quality wine.
The second of this chapter, was less gentle.
And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
Now the Jewish passover was a huge thing. Jews came to Jerusalem from all over the world for this every year, and packed the city, more than two million at a time, in the space of what today would be called a town. And all of them, again by Jewish law of God, were required there, to present sacrifice. But by this time in Jewish history, the Temple practice had become corrupt and frankly evil. God had stated through His prophets that He no longer desired the sacrifice. A huge proportion of Jews cared not for the words of God and kept on doing it.
And part of that corruption, was that Jews were not allowed, as the Law required, to bring their own sacrifice. The Jewish people who dominated the Temple insisted that their money and the fruit of their labor was not good enough, was not acceptable, and instead of doing as the Lord had commanded, unique Temple-specific money was sold for offerings of money, and special Temple-approved sheep were sold for offerings of sheep, and so on. The people dominating the Temple made themselves quite wealthy as a result. And God was not happy about this. His stated requirements for those people, were being categorically violated; and even before this, He had stated that He did not care for any of it anymore, that none of it pleased Him. So the Son wrecked their efforts most physically, made a huge squawking mixed-up mess of all of those folks' money and livestock and other possessions, and chased many of them out.
This is a deed of similar kind as the first. The Lord did not care for the wishes, for the principles and priorities, of all of those people running the show in the Temple of Jerusalem. He wrecked their elaborate operation, on its most profitable day of the year. I do not think He was laughing this time though. Before and after, this was not a time for joy; it should have been a time for repentance, and God decided it was instead to be a time for small destructions of proud practices of men and women.It was, of course, much more gentle than God has said He has been, and will be. Perhaps this was as ungentle as a Lamb of God was to be. He will be Lion in the world clear and present, one day.
Jonathan E. Brickman
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