Lent 3 – Cleansing the Temple

Pennies, Coin, Coins, Money, Jar, Spill
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John 2:13-22

Jesus Clears the Temple

13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”[a]

18 But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”

19 “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” 21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said.

Homily

John’s Gospel looks at Jesus’ life and ministry a little differently to the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  His narrative is a little more immediate, he looks at things a little from above rather than in with the crowds.  One of the things he does is to focus a little more on the Jewish Festivals.  And he places the cleansing of the Temple near to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, right after what most people say is Jesus’ first miracle – the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  So let’s take this opportunity to look at this story, which is usually hidden in the busyness of Holy Week, that final week of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

So, after the wedding at Cana, Jesus and his family head to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus had been here before, as a teenager.  In fact, as the first-born son, the Temple should have been a familiar place as he would have spent time there as a young child studying the Scriptures, training to be a Rabbi.  And although we are not specifically told so, we can imagine he stayed at the Temple a long time under the tutelage of other rabbis, because there are plenty of times that Jesus is referred to as a Rabbi in our Gospels

Luke tells us that when he was a teenager and they visited the Temple, they missed that he wasn’t with them on the journey home and had to go back to Jerusalem and finally found Him 3 days later, conversing with the priests in the temple. Back then the temple was a place of prayer, and worship, and teaching. It was a place of holiness. It was a place where you could learn and converse with God.  And Jesus would have been very familiar with all of this.

Now, we know that God is everywhere. We know that there is no place you can go where you will not encounter God. David tells us in Psalm 139:

Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.  If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will be night”— even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You.

There is no place you can go where you will not find God, but there are places where you will find Him especially close and those places are not to be violated, or soiled. The Temple was such a place. This temple had marble floors, and stone columns, and divisions where the gentiles, and women and men could go and worship. The priests had to bathe in prescribed ways in order to serve here. It was a holy place.

Passover was, and indeed is, a special time.  Jesus and his family would have looked forward to seeing the beautiful, magnificent temple as it loomed in the distance. Their hearts would have quickened a bit as they saw the magnificent building rising in the distance. They would have been surrounded by throngs of people, coming from all over the country to join in the Passover festivities and caught up in the atmosphere in the approach to the city.  They would have joined others in singing the Psalms of the Ascent as they came toward Jerusalem and the Temple where they believed God Himself lived.

Jesus and His disciples head to the temple and instead of teaching, and holiness, and worship, they hear the mooing of cows. In the temple itself, they hear the cooing of doves. They smell the overwhelming stench of the livestock and Jesus gets angry. He gets so angry, so riled and upset that He goes out and makes a whip and comes back and cleans out His Father’s house.

Take a moment to picture the scene in your minds. Picture Him, angry, shouting, swinging the whip he has made to drive out the animals and their owners.  With one hand He’s opening livestock pens and with the other, he’s turning over the tables of the money changers and driving out those who are charging a fortune to change Roman coinage into Temple coins, screaming at them that they are robbers and thieves, and they violate His Father’s house.

It amazes me how some people paint Jesus as some kind of wimpy, gentle man, who only ever goes around telling everybody to turn the other cheek. That’s not always Jesus. He was a man’s man. Remember, he was a carpenter before they had power tools and before Ikea made Billy Bookshelves.

When people ask, “What would Jesus do”, they need to remember that swinging a whip and turning over tables is a distinct possibility.

We are in Lent, the season to reflect upon our spiritual lives, our prayer lives, our relationship with God.  It is the season when we can cleanse our own personal Temples.  It is the season when perhaps we focus on giving up, not just chocolate and cake, but other bad habits we may have picked up that stop us focussing on God.  In the current Lockdown climate I know that I have not been focussing on God as much as I should have done, particularly as I have found myself with so much extra time on my hands to do so.  So, I sympathise and empathise with those of you who say that routines have been difficult because of lockdown circumstances.  I have heard plenty of interviews with famous people and indeed with ordinary people who say just how hard it is to find regulation in lockdown.  But now, in Lent, it is a chance to re-focus wherever we can, even if that may be a little hard right now.  Small steps are better than no steps at all.

A friend of mine has written a self-help book and for several years has had a podcast that “Helps you to be the best you can be”.  In a recent episode he talked about “taking action today”. He talked about taking small steps and not imagining what it will be like at the END of the process, but just at the end of the small step. The important thing was taking action today.  It is never too late, even though we are part-way through Lent, to start to focus on God a little more.  It is never too late, even though we are in March, to have a New Year’s Resolution.

So, we don’t have to be like Jesus cleansing the Temple, we can start small.  Read a small passage from the Bible today and promise to repeat that tomorrow and the days after.  Find time to pray for a few minutes and again, promise to repeat that the days after. We can all start small and we can all begin to cleanse our temples.

Prayers of Intercession

The Church of Christ

Lord, your presence is known in the structures we build, and also in their collapse. Though your people need places to gather, it is not the buildings or works of art alone that form your legacy.  Fill us with the desire to search for your truth, that we may transform the world, becoming fools for your sake. Establish in us a community of hope, not to contain your mystery but to be led beyond security into your sacred space.

Lord, teach us to live simply that others might simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Creator God, yearning and striving to bring harmony out of chaos, so fill every fibre of our being with your wisdom, and so  blow as a mighty rushing wind among the landscapes of our world, that the earth may reflect the wonder of the universe, in the glory of the transfigured Christ, who shared with you in the cost of creation.

Lord, teach us to live simply that others might simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The local community

Lord, we thank you for the gift of friendship. For our companions on the journey with light enough to show us the fruit where brambles grow; and warmth enough to feed the grain of daily need, we thank you.  For those who, in times of adversity, welcome us in and clang shut the door on the wolves outside; and for those who in times of happiness share a double joy, where each is glad for both, we thank you. Lord, help us to treasure such relationships and, through them, grow ever closer to you.

Lord, teach us to live simply that others might simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Those who suffer

Lord, who binds up the broken-hearted, who proclaims freedom to the captive and promises justice to all who mourn its absence or loss, look with compassion on those who suffer.Bless them with beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness in place of grief, and instead of the miasma of despair, enfold them in a garment of unending praise.

Lord, teach us to live simply that others might simply live: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for those who have enjoyed the sun here on earth for a while, who have lived light in the spring, who have loved, who have thought, and are now done…. May flights of angels sing them to their rest in your eternal home.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

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