Bible: John 2:13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 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. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a market-place!' His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.' The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?' Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 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.
Think about the Gospels. In Mark, the Gospel for this year, we have a very human Jesus. God chooses him from those who come to John for baptism. By the time Matthew and Luke we have birth narratives, which introduce Jesus the man, born as the Son of God. But in John, we find a Divine Son of God, so close to God he sometimes seems ethereal. The week three reading for Lent is from the Gospel of John.
When it came to Temple sacrifices, there was a highly developed procedure in being faithful people of Israel. Animals were available for sale in the large forecourt of the Temple. They could only be purchased in the Temple's own currency. So the sacrificial system meant the Temple forecourt combined money changing and animal sales. It is likely there was corruption based around the inflation of prices.
Jesus is recorded coming into the temple forecourt in each gospel, and clearing it out. The word John uses for this driving out is the same word that was used for exorcism! Jesus exorcised the "rip-off" merchants.
The story is near the end of the other gospels. It was one more event which drove the authorities to arrest and kill him. From their point of view, he was making a direct attack on a key part of the religion. The Temple system was part of the glue that held their society together.
In John, the cleansing of the Temple is at the beginning. It is the same attack on the status quo, but John drags it back to the beginning, to set the scene. It colours the picture of everything that follows. In this Gospel, Jesus' outburst is a sign of what is to come.
What is the sign?
John says "His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me." This is a deliberate mis-quotation of Psalm 69:9. The Psalm says "Zeal for your house that has consumed me." John says WILL consume me, to tell us Jesus' zeal will lead to his death.
Then Jesus is questioned: "The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?' "
They mean "What proof have you of your authority to act like this?" Jesus' reply seems to make no sense.
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
Of course, in John's mind, Jesus answers the exact question they had asked. The sign is that when you destroy this body; that is, Jesus, then it will be raised up again in three days. The reader is being referred to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. There is more here. John's Jesus very plainly says that he is the new Temple.
If we look only at the Divine Jesus of John, we can forget what actually happened. The cross seems all planned beforehand.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.' A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Contrast this with the agony and abandonment of Mark's Jesus: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
In reality the cross was, and is, foolishness. It was a disaster. It was a major stumbling block and embarrassment for early Christians. We are so familiar with the story, we have become blind to this foolishness. What kind of Messiah, and Divine Son of God, and religious leader, gets killed by his own people?
The comedian Lenny Bruce is said to have lambasted a woman wearing a cross. "If Jesus had been killed only twenty years ago, would you be wearing an electric chair around your neck?"
The Week Three reading from Paul (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) brings us back to earth from the story in John. "For we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
People in Corinth had been barracking for their favourite preachers, which Paul suggested missed the point: "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" The fact of the cross is the key point in Paul's understanding of the new faith. It is this foolishness, this death of the Messiah and yet his persistence; this counter cultural, iconoclastic, compassion filled foolishness which leads to death, and yet is continually raised, which is the power of God.
We Christians should be ready. For in some sense we too are saying Christ is the New Temple. He, including his death and resurrection, is the centre of what it means to be people of Israel; that is, people of God. He, including his death and resurrection, is the pattern for how we are going to live our lives. The world thinks we are foolish, and will tell us so.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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