Jesus’ power over death and the temple
April 8 — John 20:1-10, 19-20; April 15 — John 2:13-22By Ted Grimsrud
In John’s account, Jesus’ crucifixion is not quite as wrenching as in the other three Gospels. His own agony is not emphasized as much, nor is the trauma experienced by his followers. In part, this reflects John’s way of writing the story as a whole, where the outcome (Jesus’ glorification as the resurrected and exalted Lord) is up front from the beginning.
The account of Jesus’ resurrection begins early Sunday morning when his friend Mary Magdalene visits his tomb and finds it empty. She runs to get Peter and “the beloved disciple.”
When they get to the tomb, they find Jesus’ grave clothes and no Jesus. We are told that at this point, they still “did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (20:9). Even without this understanding, the beloved disciple “believed” (20:8).
The beloved disciple, the model follower of Jesus (more than Peter, who was impetuous and a bit thick-headed), believes because he has believed all along. He understands that Jesus has defeated death through his persevering love — even before he knows any more than that Jesus hadn’t stayed dead. Jesus had not yet appeared and explained “the scripture.”
By the evening of that same day, the followers of Jesus gathered together. Jesus appears to them. He helps them to better understand the meaning of the events of his death, resurrection and going to be with God — leaving them with the Holy Spirit and the vocation to continue his healing work.
Behind doors “closed for fear of the religious leaders” (20:19), Jesus offers “peace” (20:19). That is, he encourages his followers not to remain afraid of the powers that be but to go forth in the power of the Spirit, like he did, sharing this peace even in the face of hostility.
We now jump back to Jesus’ first visit to the Temple and his shocking act of driving out the animal sellers and money changers. John places this story at the beginning (contrary to the other Gospels, where it triggers Jesus’ arrest and execution) for symbolic reasons.
John writes openly from the perspective of the risen Christ. He is concerned about the meaning of the events of his life more than giving a linear chronology.
We should read the story of the “cleansing” of the temple together with the previous story, the gift of wedding wine at Cana. There we are told that Jesus’ gift of abundant wine was his first “sign,” reflecting the nature of his presence as God’s Word become flesh. The temple cleansing, in a sense, serves as a second sign.
Conflict and resistance to Jesus become explicit in the temple story. Jesus challenges everything the temple stands for — most fundamentally, that it is the place where God is present on Earth and that access to God within the temple is controlled by the religious leaders.
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