John 2: 13-22
The Cleansing of the Temple.
The Temple was at the heart of what it meant to be a Jew. It was not only the centre of Jewish worship, but it was the political and legal centre as well. It was, according to Holy Scripture, the place where God had promised to live with his people. And it was the place to which Jesus dared to come to turn things upside down.
We’re so used to hearing this story that we can easily forget just how shocking it was. So why did Jesus act like this? Why did he turn the money changers tables upside down and drive the animal traders out?
Animal sacrifice makes us feel sick, but for the Jews of Jesus’s time, animal sacrifice was at the heart of their worship. And because the animal had to be without blemish, if you had a license from the Temple Authorities to sell animals, you could make a lot of money.
Now we might be tempted to use this story to criticise modern day examples of religious commercialism. You know the kind of thing, tacky plastic statues sold for ridiculous prices at religious shrines. But we also need to be clear that Jesus was, and is, against all types of exploitation, whether it shelters under a religious umbrella or not. And so today, he would probably be upsetting Law Courts and Parliaments. Palaces and Banking Centres and all of those places where people with power and wealth so often use their positions to feather their own nests at the expense of ordinary men and women.
But, although it’s right for us to reflect on all of this, we should also try to see the deeper point of what Jesus was doing.
You see, through his actions, Jesus was announcing God’s condemnation of the Temple itself and all that it had become in the national life of Israel.
The Temple was supposed to be a sign of God’s presence with Israel for the sake of the world. The way through which God would welcome all nations to himself. Israel was supposed to be a light for people who weren’t Jews. For gentiles, like you and me.
God had chosen the Jews in order to bring men and women everywhere back, to himself. And the Temple, with its sacrificial system, was supposed to stand at the heart of this loving act of God. But it had moved from this to become an Institution which was content to see violence taken to foreigners, whilst its own people were exploited.
And as it became more and more corrupt, those who led it were also increasing their personal wealth.
So, by stopping the entire process, even just for a few symbolic moments, Jesus was saying more powerfully than any words could express, that the Temple was under God’s judgement, and the reason for its existence was being taken away.
Jesus knew that he himself was going to defeat evil and unite men and women with each other and with God by taking upon himself the task which the Temple had turned away from.
He said: “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days”. But he was speaking of the Temple of his body, and so this was the language of sacrifice. The death of the lamb of God, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, would bring about that which the Temple had failed to do.
Jesus is the true Temple, the place where the glory of God dwells in all its fullness. Jesus took the Temple traditions and applied them to himself. He became the reality to which the Temple was pointing. A One-Man Temple System, if you like.
The glory of God dwelt in Jesus for everybody to see. God became incarnate in Jesus and the Glory of his presence was seen in his life; in the life of the living Temple. The Temple which would itself become the perfect sacrifice as Our Lord gave himself to God, for us by his death on the cross.
As we walk the way of the cross with our Lord through, Lent may our prayers direct us towards this truth. May we be filled with God’s Spirit and have our eyes opened. May we recognise the sacrifice of God in Christ. The sacrifice which tells us that God loves us despite all that we’ve done. And may this recognition draw us closer into his heart, and make us fit to live with him, as part of his new living Temple, for ever.