13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Jesus is a confounding person. We have tried desperately to domesticate him, and with him, we seek to domesticate God. We want to claim God for our own causes, dividing up along lines of blue and red states. We have the Christian Right and the Christian Left, both claiming to represent Jesus’ cause. As Abraham Lincoln profoundly noted in his Second Inaugural Address both sides in the Civil War that intractably engaged the nation for four years prayed to the same God, pleading with that God to bless their efforts, for both believed that their cause was just.
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.
Yes, the “Almighty has His own purposes.” While religion is often the tool of oppression, or at least a co-conspirator, Jesus offers us a different vision, one that challenges our attempts to manipulate the faith for partisan purposes. That’s not to say that there is no place for activism on the part of the church or of Christians, or that we need to abandon participation in the body politic, but it is a warning to be conscious of where one stands in relation to God and the powers that be.
So, what should we make of the Jesus who appears at the Temple here in the Gospel of John? Is he an agent provocateur?