"Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David." (2 Chron 3)
It all began when King David wanted to ensure he got the Temple off to a good start. And he remembered a piece of land that he'd bought.
The land was the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite - not an Israellite, not a Jew. One of the people who'd lived in Jerusalem before the Hebrews moved in. And when I say moved in, i do of course mean "exceeded the government's annual immigration targets". Though the Jebusites were clever, and tricked themselves a treaty of safety. Didn't stop the Jews taking over that part of the promised land, or David deciding it was a good place for a capital. But still. Clearly Araunah still has property rights. And here is the important bit - David, who has a fairly flexible attitude to whose wife is whose, is better at respecting the Ten Commandments when it's a piece of land.
The threshing floor was where the plague stopped, when David had unexpectedly provoked God's wrath by holding a census. When David wanted to buy it to build his altar, Araunah offers him it for nothing - David was after all the conquering king. But importantly David offers a fair price, and gets the land.This was the point where David built an altar to God - and the plague stopped. It was also the place, centuries earlier, when it had been a wild place, where Abraham had built an altar, and gone to sacrifice Isaac, and at the last moment God had provided a ram. So it's a place where people are reconciled to God. And it's a place where things are exchanged at a fair price. And a place of threshing.
There are a few ways of threshing. The bigger-scale method, before industrialisation, was to get an ox to drag a board or sledge around over a great pile of harvested cereal crops. You spread the sheaves out, and drag the board across, and it breaks the hard grains out from the stalks and the chaff. Then you throw the chaff and the grain up and the chaff blows away, and the grain falls down and you gather it up. The smaller-scale method is to use a flail - basically, a strong handle with one or more wooden sticks attached - and you whip the crop to knock the grains out.
Is this what Jesus is doing when he clears the temple? He throws the tables over and he whips the tradespeople. He's in the precincts of the temple. On the threshing floor of Araunah. A place that was bought at a fair price. A place where deals should be fair and God's free gifts should be celebrated. But these money changers - they're distorting both of those. The temple authorities are licensing the livestock traders to sell at a profit, and the money changers are the people providing the smoke and mirrors that mean that the animals you buy, cost far more than they would at a normal market.
These pilgrims are from all over the Judean countryside and Galilee. Some have come across the Roman Empire as their once in a lifetime journey to the Holy Land - to Jerusalem - the place where God's Name dwells. And when they get there, they're being ripped off. It's a bit like going to a theme park - and you might have driven across half the country to get there, might have gone to France or flown to America. And you know the price of soft drinks - about 50p a can in a supermarket. But now you're inside the heavenly precincts of Itchy and Scratchy Land, and you discover that, on a volume for volume basis, it would be cheaper to buy the nectar of the gods than a fizzy drink. But you're in there now and the kids are thirsty. So what to do? You inwardly make supplication to the little fierce god of credit card bills, and you buy the drink.
And so for the pilgrims. They know they're being ripped off. The money changers and the merchants know they're ripping them off. But they're in the Temple now. And they suspect that maybe these sheep, these doves, maybe they are better quality - surely they must be, or why else would the priests allow them to be sold there? And they've been wanting some of thoseTemple shekels - even though they're not legal currency outside the Temple gates - as a souvenir. So they grit their teeth and they pay through the nose and they get their hideously over-priced pair of pigeons and they go in to get them sacrificed. It's not that there was anything wrong with people selling them the animals for sacrifice - if you're going to journey to Jerusalem from Rome or Corinth or even Lyons you're hardly gonna bring your sheep with you - it was the ripping off. That's what was wrong.
And as all this is going on - the clanging and shouting, scared bleating and money chinking that makes up the sounds of the House of Prayer - the One arrives who, for a short time, is going to return that place to its original use. He throws the tables. When I was young I played the part of one of the characters in the Temple precincts when Jesus turned up. And young Eamonn was playing Jesus. And he used to throw the school tables across the stage which was our Temple. Over a one-week run of our Mystery Play-Lite, he broke three tables. It is a fearful thing to have a table thrown at you.
And then Jesus thrashes on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. He drives the chaff off from the grain. He chases the shysters out of the temple gates. He is the thresher that John the Baptist predicted - all the way back at the start of their ministry: "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Maybe he's enacting the words of Isaiah 27: "On that day the Lord will thresh from the channel of the Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you will be gathered one by one, O people of Israel." Just for a moment - just for that period of time - the Temple is a threshing floor again, and the people are threshed by God, and the place is clean, and a place which is founded on paying a fair price.
But before it was a temple, before it was a threshing floor, it had been a wild place. A place where a man, driven by terror of the place and his Aweful Lord, reached out his hand to sacrifice his son. It was the place where, to show his mercy, the Lord provided an alternative. On that occasion it was a sheep, a ram caught by the horns. In turning back the Temple to the threshing floor, Jesus has only set the clock back halfway.
The authorities are livid. Their shame has been exposed. Their scam has - if only for today - been overturned. People will remember the angry young preacher who made such a prophetic sign today. People will talk. Maybe they'll wonder if it's right, that pilgrims be ripped off like this. Is it what the Lord wants, that people should be ripped-off and cheated to buy peace with God?
The priests and rulers are going to get their revenge.
But God knows that there is an alternative. God provided an alternative before. God can offer a free way into his presence, into the right place before him - but one bought at a terrible cost to Godself, not just a ram this time. God can pass judgement on a human world of cheating and thieving, of people having access to God's presence limited and mediated. As the Temple is cleared and the dust settles and the show is over, and the holy coins lay on the ground and people scurry off to hide or report the news, and the animals and birds lay or stand tethered in their panic, the Lamb of God stands in the middle of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. He's threshed the Temple. Now to go all the way back - and all the way to the end - and make the one true sacrifice.