Homilist: Joanne Warman
The Gospel: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
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 marketplace!” 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. (John 2: 13-22)
In addition to the crucifixion and resurrection, there are only two other accounts that appear in all four gospels – the feeding of the 5000 and the account we read this morning – the cleansing of the temple. I believe that since these accounts appear in all four gospels, it speaks to the importance of each event.
The cleansing of the temple is more than simply a story about Jesus getting angry. There’s more to this story than that. And I don’t think it’s about the animals or the moneychangers being in the temple. Jesus had to have known they were there. He grew up as a faithful Jew going to the temple. He didn’t show up this day and say, “Wow! There are animals and moneychangers here. I didn’t know this. This is wrong.” The animals and moneychangers had always been there. That’s how the system worked. It was business as usual for them to be there. This act of Jesus is an act of disruption; not just disrupting the events taking place at that temple that day but an act of disruption that cut to the core of the historic Jewish faith. It was a moment of crisis where Jesus was saying the old way of practicing your faith was no long appropriate, the heart of faith was being lost in rituals and passion for God was being sold out. He was not opposing traditions but he did know that true faith can not ever be expressed in empty rituals.
Each gospel writer puts a “different” spin on the story and that is what has happened here. Matthew, Mark and Luke often referred to as the synoptic gospels because they include many of the same stories in a similar sequence or sometimes use an identical wording all have this event placed during the final week of Jesus’s ministry but John records it right after Jesus’ ministry has begun. Richard Neill Donovan suggests the following different theories with regard to the timing of this story:
As the precipitating incident for the crucifixion, the cleansing of the temple took place near the end of Jesus’s ministry. This would also account for the abruptness of the transition from the Cana wedding story to the temple-cleansing story. It seems unlikely that Jesus could come from nowhere to cleanse the temple without stirring more significant opposition than John records. Also, the style of the Synoptics is quite different from the Gospel of John—the Synoptics emphasizing more the history of Jesus’ life while John emphasizing more the theology behind his life. It would be more in character for John than for the other three to move the story out of sequence, and it seems likely that he did so to establish important themes right from the outset of his Gospel.
Some scholars believe that John’s sequence is correct and that the other three moved the story to the end of Jesus’ life to show why Jesus was crucified. Others have suggested that there were actually two cleansings of the temple, but this theory has not met with widespread acceptance.
The temple was the very centre of Jewish life. It represents the location and presence of God. As I said in my introduction, Jesus is not against the temple but rather what it had become. The temple was turning into a marketplace instead of a place of worship.
Passover was one of those pilgrimage celebrations. Worshippers would make their way to Jerusalem to the Temple to make their offerings and worship God. Jesus did this every year. Luke records one of the trips Jesus made with His family when He was young. If you can’t remember how that trip ended, read Luke 2: 41 – 52 this afternoon.
The outer courtyard area of the Temple was known as the Court of the Gentiles because this was as close to the Temple as us unclean Gentile could get. Now, there would not have been any room in the courtyard for Gentile worshippers because that’s where all the moneychangers had their booths set up.
Jesus found the temple to be a market-like setting, which included buying, selling, bartering, and taking advantage of the poor with the extra expense levied on them in the form of a temple tax. Since it was Passover there would have been many more stalls set up. If any of you ever travelled to the US for Thanksgiving and took part in Black Friday shopping (especially before online shopping) you will have a sense of what was happening.
John’s gospel often employs the use of a double meaning and that is what happens in the next few verses. In verse 18 we read “what sign can you show us for doing this?” When Jesus answers “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, the Jews understood the temple to refer to the building where they were standing. Jesus was using the word temple in reference to his own body and this was a prophecy of the resurrection and that would be the sign for which they were asking in verse 18.
After the resurrection the disciples got it…and they believed.
This sign had a delayed fulfillment. It didn’t click with the disciples until after Jesus was raised from the grave. How often do we see the meaning of an event in hindsight? Often, we do not even realize how God is working in our lives until sometimes years down the road.
As I have said, Jesus’ actions in the temple were disruptive and I am glad that we belong to such a disruptive Lord. This Lord of ours will overturn anything and everything that hinders us from appropriate devotion and service to God and to one another. This disruptive Lord of ours does not passively abandon persons and institutions which he has called into being. No, this disruptive Lord boldly confronts that which is inappropriate within us and among us for the purpose of making us whole and faithful. May we continue praising God for stirring us to faithfulness. May we praise Him for disturbing our complacent lives. May we praise Him for disruptively working to make us the persons and the community God created us to be.
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