Pharoah and his army he cast into the sea, they went down, down, down like a stone. By your right hand, by your mighty right hand they were shattered; Lord, you shattered them all. Sing to the Lord; the Lord has won, he has won. Sing to the Lord; the Lord has won, he has won.
– Exodus 15
Moses is referred to as a servant thirty-six times in the scripture Jesus learned on Mary’s lap.
Only, there’s another understanding of servant that courses through the Hebrew Bible. It’s not a memory of one God has sent to his People. It’s the promise of a servant God will send to rescue his People.
The prophet Isaiah was called after the Chosen People had been invaded, defeated and plundered by Babylon. Israel’s best and brightest were exiled into captivity. Those not exiled had it worse; they had to live among ruins, the promises of God reduced to ash and rubble.
Isaiah looked for a day when God would restore his People by way of another Servant.
And maybe because of all the violence Isaiah had witnessed, maybe because Isaiah knew firsthand that violence doesn’t always end in victory songs, Isaiah anticipated a servant unlike Moses. Isaiah envisioned a deliverance different than the Exodus.
After Jesus enters Jerusalem, on Monday of Holy Week, Jesus goes to the Temple as though he’d been deputized and it’s his jurisdiction.
Not content to ‘teach’ he drives them out:
The merchants who’ve set up shop in the narthex.
The money changers, looking to make a buck off atonement. The venders who sold doves to those too poor (like Mary and Joseph) to purchase a proper animal for sacrificing.
Jesus drives them out along with all the thousands of sheep and oxen waiting to be sold to the holiday travelers.
Tradition refers to this as Jesus ‘cleansing’ the Temple, but it’s really a stampede. In a city already filled with 200,000 pilgrims and the 20,000 lambs required for their Passover meals Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple creates chaos in the streets. It leaves the crowds spellbound.
It puts Jesus firmly in control of events.
If he truly is a Messiah like they expect then his coup d’etat is nearly complete: the Temple’s been taken, the crowds are on his side and the Roman fortress is literally just next door.
But Jesus doesn’t take up arms.
Instead, Matthew says that after he’s driven out the merchants and money changers, Jesus welcomes the blind and the lame and the children to come up to him in the Temple, a place where they were forbidden.
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple becomes yet another example of how he’s taught all along.
As though God had sent this messiah to teach.
As if deliverance could be accomplished with just words.
Or with the Word.