Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Jesus’ actions in John today fly in the face of who we usually think Jesus is: mild, compassionate, nurturing and loving. Jesus wielding a whip and, quite likely, hitting people and/or animals with it, is something that we may scratching our heads and hearts over. Jesus has a strong sense of the sacredness of worship, how we are called to worship God, and how we are called to be in community with God. But Jesus’ prediction, “Destroy this Temple and in 3 days I will raise it up,” means that, ultimately, Jesus’ body, His life, His very essence is the source of our worship, not a building, not a transitory place. Jesus is the everlasting source of promise, forgiveness, and life. God demands that we be faithful to the reality that Jesus has destroyed the reach of temporal power and supplanted it with the truth: the love of God, His Divine power, and the reality of that He cannot help loving us, in spite of it all.
If were to go to the Old City of Jerusalem, at least as of six or seven years ago, it might remind you of the Temple scene in John today. Walk down any lane or stone street in the Old City and you will see vendors selling rugs, trinkets, traditional and contemporary clothing, religious artifacts, and food. And you would see “moneychangers,” people changing your currency into that of the modern state of Israel. Commercial activity was apparently part of the 2nd Temple, rebuilt after the Jewish people returned from the exile in Babylon. The 2nd Temple was vast, taking up a sizeable portion of the 1st Century city of Jerusalem, and it is not hard to imagine the outer court becoming a place where you could (a) change your Roman money into Jewish currency; it was a necessity actually because Roman money was not allowed to go into the Temple treasury; (b) you could purchase animals for sacrifice, from the small turtledoves or pigeons to bulls, rams, sheep and goats. All of this was legal and, in fact, was essential to the way the Temple was run circa 30–ish AD.
But Jesus did not care about convenience or legalities. He saw that the worship of God had become commercialized and sullied and he wanted it to STOP. So, he fashioned a whip out of cords and forcibly drove the animals, their owners, and the moneychangers from the Temple. In all of the three synoptic Gospels it is this act, during Passover week, that seals Jesus’ fate. But in John, this event happens early in Jesus’ ministry, in the beginning, instead near the end, signifying who Jesus was: The Son of God and the seat of worship. The literal-minded who heard Jesus thought this crazed Galilean meant that He would destroy the Temple; this was the only true piece of evidence used against Jesus is His trial with the Jewish and Roman authorities before he was crucified. But Jesus was actually, once again, alluding to His death and resurrection: destroy this temple, my body, and in three days, God will bring it to new life. Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4: “The hour is coming when we will not worship on this mountain or in Jerusalem … but will worship the Father in Spirit and truth …” In Jesus, the reality of how we worship God, Father and mother – in the name of Jesus, through faith in His name and His sacrifice – has now become about not a place but a person, and the Divine Light of God that shines through that person, Jesus, the Christ.
So, Jesus acts in the Temple. He reacts, in the moment, against the reality that folks cannot seem to be what they might be. He acts against the tendency to trivialize the sacred, commercialize the profound, and to fail to hold God up to the light of Jesus, and truly praise Him from the heart.
Yet, Jesus, in His predictions of His own passion, says that He understands our pain and our struggle and will become a part of that struggle. The Temple of Jesus’ body was broken for us and we, who aspire to be His body, the Church, we are called to listen. Let us listen to Jesus’ words: in three days, I will raise this body up. In three days, Jesus bought our lives and brought us into life, with Him.
This is the foolish wisdom of the Cross that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians. God coming among us and dying actually makes no sense at all! The God of the universe, in Jesus, being humiliated and murdered ... that just cannot happen. But, the weight of human challenge and sin was too great and how could we save ourselves while we were still in it? So, God took our salvation upon himself for only one reason: out of love. The Temple of Jesus’ body was destroyed but He lives – in Resurrected possibility – in an imperfect Church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is someone we have talked about before. He was the Lutheran pastor who also conspired, with a group of military leaders and spies, to kill Hitler in the summer of 1944. When the plot failed, almost all the conspirators were captured, many killed right away, and others imprisoned. On April 8, 1945, at the Concentration Camp Flossenburg, in southern Germany, the execution order came down for the execution of Bonhoeffer. That night, on the eve of his execution, Bonhoeffer gathered together a group of prisoners for a service of Communion. After the service, he embraced a major of the British air force, who would survive the war, and said to him, “For me this is the end. For me, this is the beginning of life.”
Those words mean to me, “Even though this mortal body is going to be destroyed, because of the Resurrection of Jesus, this is not the end.” And I don’t see this as a statement of faith about the life eternal only, I believe it applies to the resurrections Jesus makes possible in our lives all the time. The Temple of Jesus’ body was destroyed but the spirit of His sacrifice and Resurrection, the reality of them, makes our lives possible. Because of the resurrection, if find whatever courage I need to be a father, a husband, a priest … fill in the blank for yourselves. That is what we are worshipping: the reality that God makes our continued renewal possible, because of His divine and magnificent love. This is the foolishness of the Cross; the God of the all the universe would be destroyed so that our lives would be raised. Let us praise God, this day, for His great gift of worship.