There was a man whose feet, I recall, were shod in thin leather sandals, his coat was well worn and his prayer shawl was beautiful in its simplicity. The tzit tzit on his shawl were short, unlike the priests prayers shawls with tassels that dragged behind them as they walked the street.
His face was not handsome like those silly girls at home giggled over, but I have never seen a face so full of peace and kindness as this man’s face except the first time I saw it. That day, I thought no man could forget.
It was almost the Passover. I hurried mother onto the donkey and we set out to make sacrifice and to pay my Temple tax. I had worked and saved for months to pay the half shekel to the Temple for me and the Kolbon, a halfpenny, to the priest who collected the Temple tax. Women did not have to pay this so my labor was not extended to pay for mother. It embarrasses me to say this, but she did not flux anymore so we did not have to purchase the doves to sacrifice either, well enough for my back, I assure you.
I settled mother in a cozy little room in her sister’s house, then I waded through the throng to the Temple gates. I waited my turn in the long line to purchase my ticket for the drink offering. The court was teeming with birds and cattle and people. The sheep were bleating, the cattle lowing and the birds set up a cacophony that the people shouted over. How anyone could worship in this din was beyond my comprehension. I wondered if God could hear me think over this squawking and screeching.
I watched as a frail looking young woman tried to keep hold of her two doves’ sacrifice. One kept fluttering and wiggling until it broke free. It flew around the court of the Gentiles and finally came to rest on top of the very cage it had been extracted from. Horrified, I watched as it scuttled back into the cage. I grabbed the other bird she was struggling with and tied a string around its feet and handed that to her amidst her cries of gratefulness. I broke the line, marched to the head of the dove line and demanded the man give her back the bird that had escaped from her. He was adamant he was not going to do as I bid until another came as confirmation of my witness. Reluctantly and with the slowness of a flower budding, he retrieved the bird and gave it to the woman. I was disgusted at the trick.
I redeemed my purchased ticket for my drink offering, then stood in line at the altar. The silver basin gleamed in the bright sunlight, twinkling and I fancied I saw God grinning at me over the dove incident. Since it came aright, I supposed it was all right to laugh at how that freed dove made the whole crowd duck and cover their heads. I poured my fourth of a hin of wine into the basin and for a moment, the way it swirled in the bottom and then drained onto the altar it looked like free flowing blood, covering the whole. I shivered and went to purchase the single lamb for our Passover.
I gazed at the bullocks in the corner of the court. I longed to be able to purchase one for the Chagiga, tomorrow’s feast. Once again, we must purchase for the feast from a vendor who sold portions instead of wholes. Seven days, the Passover lasted. I sighed, for I would have loved to have sat in the Temple the whole time and learned from the Priests and the Rabbis as they taught the Scriptures. I hungered for it, like a starving man… boy, for I was not yet full grown. One day…
I tossed my half shekel into the trumpet chest for the Temple tax and then put into the greedy hand of the man sitting beside the chest the kolbon, payment for the privilege of paying my tax. If it wouldn’t make my brain hurt, I would have figured up how much that man would have made in a day of collecting the Temple tax. It was more than I could ever hope to make in all my days. I smiled, then. I knew God provided just enough for mother and me and there were no headaches from too much figuring. I was satisfied.
Turning from that table, I glanced up into a pair of eyes that held me rooted to the spot. I thought my heart would not stay in my chest, it leaped in joy so greatly. I knew not who he was, but I greatly desired to know him. His expression softened as he looked at me. He picked me up as if I weighed nothing and set me beside the wall out of the way. I had no idea why he did this until I watched his expression harden as he surveyed the court. I scampered out of His way for the look on His face as He gazed around the court was black enough to cause lightening to strike. He was angry enough at what He saw to call down fire from the sky. Then His gaze roamed over the cattle and the birds and the tables with stacks of money, His mouth hardened into a thin line and His shoulders set; the muscles of His arms flexed and His jaw clenched. The Man was full of wrath.
Amazingly, not one priest or scribe or any member of the Sanhedrin noticed this Man full of fury. I was rooted to my spot in fascination, for I could imagine what was to come next.
He bent over and scooped up some strips of rawhide from the court floor. He up ended a keg and sat down. I was stupefied. What? Where was the thunder and lightening? Where was the purifying flames that would clean out this cesspool that man had created in God’s Holy House? I stole a glance at His face. His jaw worked his beard as His teeth gritted. There were white anger lines around His lips and His eyes flashed a promise of vengeance. My young heart was ready for a good fight and a few bloody noses.
Those eyes never left the noisy business of the court as His fingers deftly fashioned a whip. It took more than an hour for the whip to be shaped. As each minute passed, His expression never softened. I was amazed that no one took notice of Him… not even the owner of the keg upon which He sat.
Then He stood.
I held my breath.
The sharp crack of the whip caused a momentary silence as the people sought out the source of the sound. That silence after such a deafening roar and then the sharp crack made my ears ring. I never thought the court could get noisier. The women set up such a screeching that my bones rattled. I put my hands over my ears. My head pounded with the clamor and my breath stopped. I wanted out of there but I couldn’t move for fear of being trampled. People scattered like ants on a stomped on hill. I regret to say that was a fascinating pastime in my younger years.
He started in one corner and cracked the whip again. I was so jealous of how He made that sound. I was determined to learn how to do that. He cracked it over the heads of the cattle and they startled, rearing up and backing away, trampling the feet of their owners, and breaking down the rickety walls of their cages. The sheep split and scurried in a half dozen streams bleating their terror. This sound magnified as it bounced around the stone walls of the court.
Then He drove all the animals from the Temple straight into the streets of Jerusalem. The whip was cracking over their heads like sharp bursts of thunder. The men grabbed at the hems of their garments, pulled them between their legs and tucked them in their girdles. Off they scrambled after their cattle and sheep. It was mayhem. The Man, then laid hold of the tables… one by one the tables were flipped into the air, money tinkled and jangled all about, but the people were too stunned to scrabble through the muck for the coins. Well, the ordinary people were too stunned. The priests and the scribes dropped to hands and knees and searched through the cracks and crevices and all the muck to find each coin. Their hands and clothes became fouled. The stench they stirred up moved me to leave the place, but not before I heard the man shout at the sellers of doves, “Take these things from here! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”
He’d said, “My Father’s house.” I knew the instant my gaze met his that this Man was someone so very special. I longed to follow him, to get to know him. Hush, a priest had screwed up courage to approach him.
“What sign do you give us that you have authority to do this?”
The Man turned to the priest, His fury softened a mite, but the priest backed away from him. “Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up.”
Bravely, the priest scoffed, “It took forty and six years to build this and do you raise it in three days?”
Jesus. I heard his name whispered in the crowd. Jesus then tossed the whip in the muck and strode from the court. His shoulders wide and his stride firm, confident. I could not help myself. I ran after Him. I had to know this man.
For seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, I stayed close to Him. I drank in His words. I learned more from Him than from all that Rabbi ben Phenias taught. I was so thankful I had learned my scriptures for the Man quoted from them constantly. He spoke of things that I had wondered at and had questioned, and now they were explained. Those around me scoffed. They would throw questions at Him and were angry at His answers. Alas, I had to take mother home to our little hamlet, but I watched and listened for news of this Jesus. When ever He came near, I would hasten to where He was. One day, there was a vast crowd gathered on a hillside. I hurried with my chores that morning so I would not miss His teachings. Mother pressed a basket in my hand before I left, but I barely noticed until that evening.
When he looked down at my young face, his eyes thanked me and blessed me in greater terms than if he had handed me a bag of gold. He acted like I had handed him a gift of great value… like the basket was made of gold and the fish and bread were rubies and diamonds. Even my mother never acted with such gratitude as that when I gave her my few earned coins at the end of the day. Oh, he didn’t do anything except pat my shoulder and look at me. But, glory, this Man was great at saying things without speaking a word!
I watched his hands, big and gentle, break those fish and bread. Then his voice so sweetly blessed the food and God. Mother was completely undone when I brought several baskets of food home with me. I didn’t have to work for a whole week! I wanted to know more about this man. I heard everything he said. I went about gathering information like I was going to report it at school. In fact, I did. After I recited the sayings of Ezekiel, I reported on what I had seen and heard.
Rabbi ben Phenias scoffed, “How could such a small one see prophecy fulfilled in such a small bit of scripture?”
I wavered. I had been so excited to remember what I had seen this man Jesus do with that little bit of food and then to recite the saying, “And I will raise up over them one Shepherd. And He shall feed them. My servant David, He shall feed them, and He shall be their Shepherd.” And especially after I had looked into His eyes; surely this Man was sent by God. I heard Him say so and the miracle could not be done by anyone but from God. But, my mind was young, then. Who was I to question the Rabbi, who had studied the sayings and the scriptures all his life? So, I tucked the thoughts and memory away to be considered one day when I was older, more learned, and more versed in Scripture and the Sayings.
I stored up the things I studied. I did not just recite by rote, I tried to understand what I was learning, then reciting. This God that we worshiped, this God of my father and his father and his father and all the fathers before was magnificent. He was power and might. He fed the children of Israel for forty years. He parted the sea and made the bottom dry ground. He struck down great armies. He made the sun reverse its course for a day so the children of Israel could win a battle. He walked in the fire with the three friends of Daniel. His hand holds the earth and He sits on the circle of the earth. He put each star in place. He lets loose the rain and holds back the waters of the sea. His word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. He answers the prayers of the lowly. He promised a Shepherd that would feed His flock, who would heal the sick, and make the lame walk and the blind see and the dead walk. His power and might knows no bounds.
I drank in His words like a thirsty man collapsed on the desert floor. I believed Him. He healed the sick, made the lame walk and the blind to see again. I believed Him, but I was too young to follow Him.
Three years passed… more than three. I gathered in all I could hear about this Man. I searched for Him every Passover and was never disappointed. I noted that the priests and scribes grew more agitated at His presence and teaching than a mother bird is agitated at an egg-stealing snake. One time, they fluttered and fussed and picked up stones, and Jesus just melted away right in front of my eyes. He was there and then He was not. I was astounded.
Brothers, today we are talking about what our Brother Paul discusses in his letter to the Galatians. Paul tells us about the fruit of the Spirit. I stand before you, a man of great conviction that Jesus is the Son of God and that He lives today. When you believe Him, He comes to indwell your heart and you, too, can exhibit this fruit. I wanted to give you an eyewitness account of Self-control. On the thirteenth of Nisan, in the year our Lord was crucified, I witnessed such self-control that has never been exhibited to this day. Pardon me… it is difficult for me to contain my grief at the thought of our precious Jesus on the cross… Ah-hemm.
As I was saying, it was the thirteenth of Nisan. I had just poured my drink offering into the silver basin. I saw the poor, dressed in ragged homespun, laboriously counting out their kolbon to pay their Temple taxes to priests dressed in fine linen, dripping in gold chains. I saw the money changers dressed in purples and fine linen miscounting in their exchanging Temple coin for foreign coin. I saw doves wiggle and flutter out of poor women’s hands, flying back into their cages. I saw exorbitant prices paid for lambs that could be bought at home for a few coins. Bullocks brought fortunes to their sellers while the waste from these animals fouled the Temple floor and air. I was sickened at the noise and at the evil that had again pervaded the Lord’s Temple.
The crowd parted for an instant and I looked directly into those eyes again. The white marks of anger were back around his lips, his shoulders were set and his jaw worked his beard. The Man was holding back white, hot fury… again.
I had learned over the past few years that this Man, the Son of God, had the power in his finger tips to consume the whole of the mountain, not just the Temple or the people in it. It was going to be a huge uproar and I wasn’t about to miss one second of it.
I scampered to a corner and settled on a keg to watch.
His feet never once stopped in hesitation. He strode to the corrals and tossed down the rickety walls, driving out the cattle, shooing the sheep and overturning the tables of the money changers. All the while He was shouting, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer.’” He tossed another table into the air, “But you,” He growled the word, “have turned it into den of thieves. You have defiled the Sabbath and this House.”
This Man who is the Son of God had even more self-control on that fateful day He was crucified. He stayed upon the cross. When He had angels to command, when He had all the riches of Heaven, when He could calm the wind and still the waves with just a word, "Peace, be still", this Man chose to stay on the cross, and what's more, He asked forgiveness for those who crucified Him. They knew not what they did. Love, mercy, and looking past the shame of the cross to the joy beyond it with us on His mind, my brothers. Pay heed today. That, my friends, is self-control beyond comprehension.
With one breath from His mouth, He could have consumed them with fire, yet… He did not. In the Temple, He scattered the cattle and sheep, He did not kill them. He scattered the people, He did not kill them. Our brother Peter teaches that God does not pour out His wrath upon this people who deserve His wrath because His desire is that all come to Him and to not perish. Our God is holding back His white hot fury so that all those who desire to become His can have that opportunity. Make no mistake, His wrath will be poured out and the earth will melt, make sure you are not one of those caught in the flames.
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