In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Each year at the time of Jesus, the Jewish people gather in Jerusalem for this most holy meal. Jerusalem is the site of the Temple, built as a visible dwelling place for the invisible God who brought them out of slavery to freedom. When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, of course he goes to the Temple to pray.
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. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
We can imagine how Jesus must feel as he approaches the Temple, wanting a place set apart to be with his God after a long journey. Climbing the stairs to the entrance, he must start to feel some unease as the noise of the marketplace inside meets his ears. What sights and smells then assault his senses as he steps inside the Temple walls! Grabbing cords--maybe his own and the disciples' belts?--he cracks them in the air and whips them against the Temple cobblestones. The sound must rise above the din of the marketplace, making people stop what they are doing and look around. Then, we can imagine people scrambling out of his way, grabbing their things and fleeing between the cows and goats, as he starts flipping the tables and pouring out coins.
Jesus knows that people buy animals to offer to God in the Temple, but he does not expect them to be selling within the Temple itself. The Temple is a holy place, a place set apart solely for people to be with God. The people seem to have forgotten that they are standing in the presence of God.
Seeing Jesus' reaction, how would we describe how he feels? Upset? Furious? Disgusted? The disciples call it "zeal." They remember that it is written,
“Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Zeal means "great enthusiasm," but Jesus seems way more than just greatly enthusiastic about God's house. He is passionate. This is passion that will one day lead to the cross.
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
There are different possible reactions to this zeal, aren't there? Some people, after they get their things and get out of the Temple, could realize that they have been wrong. They could remember that the place is holy, and they have not been treating it this way. But others will prefer to change the question away from whether the behaviour is wrong, to whether Jesus has the right to boss people around.
St. John calls the people with this attitude "the Jews." But all these people here are Jews. The Romans are not concerned with the Temple. Jesus is a Jew. His mother Mary is a Jew. Do we think "the Jews" is a good name for the people who will not admit they are wrong? We need to remember that when St. John says, "the Jews," he does not mean all Jewish people. He means, "Those people who criticize Jesus."
Jesus responds to the criticism,
“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.
We probably cannot blame these people for not understanding Jesus. How are they supposed to realize that Jesus is speaking about his body? Even the disciples don't get it until after the Resurrection. This is a sign, then, that everyone--disciples and criticizers--can reflect upon in light of the Resurrection, in light of what we know now.
So why does Jesus refer to his body as "this Temple"? Since everyone thinks he means the building, let's think, what do we know about the Temple building?
It is a place built to be a visible dwelling place for the invisible God.
It is holy, a place set apart.
We know that at Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit comes down upon him and remains. Jesus is a dwelling place for God. He is visible to us, he helps us to know the invisible God. Jesus is holy, set apart for God.
We, too, have been baptized, and have received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes a home in us. St. Paul tells us that this means,
"your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you" (1 Corinthians 6:19)
We are Temples, too. We carry the Holy Spirit within us. Our bodies are holy places, places set apart for God. Mine is, and so is yours. Not a marketplace, but a Temple.
There is another thing we know about the Temple building.
Jesus is passionate about it.
Jesus is passionate about us.
A Two-Part Cleansing
he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle
When the Temple is unclean, Jesus drives out what is not holy. This is Jesus' work. He cleans. In Lent, we open ourselves to being cleansed by God.
“Take these things out of here!”
Jesus also points out what needs to be taken out. He gives us some work to do. In Lent, we take out the trash from within the Temple.
There is a scene in one of the Harry Potter books (I won't spoil the story, I promise!) that seems to have been built from this account of Jesus cleansing the Temple. It shows this two-part cleansing. Dumbledore, the great and good wizard, confronts an 11-year-old child who has done wrong. Dumbledore sets a box of the child's belongings on fire. It is a cleansing fire; it does not burn up the box. When the fire goes out, several items remain, rattling and shaking. Dumbledore asks the child, "Is there anything in that box that you ought not to have?" When the child agrees, Dumbledore tells him what he must do to make things right (JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 255).
Lent seems to be a season made for Jesus' two-part cleansing. Throughout these days of prayer and fasting, we open ourselves to his passion for us. We let Jesus do his work, and when he shows us what has to be stopped, then we have a choice. Will we make things right? Will we clean up the Temple, our very own visible dwelling place for God?