John 2: 13-22
Grace to you and peace. Spring is rolling in all around us. April showers this week, in early March, and perhaps we’ll be in midsummer by Mother’s Day. Days getting longer in any event, Daylight Saving Time today, which caught me by surprise, baseball in Bradenton, kids home for spring break.
But inside the globe of the Church Year the sky is turning dark and dead serious.
This year in the lectionary cycle this Third Sunday in Lent we’re in John’s second chapter and near Passover in Jerusalem. The other gospels set this story on Palm Sunday and in the crisis of Holy Week. John seems to have a different timing. But the connection is clearly there anyway. Passover. Destroy this temple, and in three days. The temple of his body. And after he was raised from the dead his disciples remembered. Good Friday, Easter all don’t seem too far away. It may not literally be Holy Week in the second chapter, but close enough.
In any event, it’s the image of the moment that catches our attention. Stunning really. Even breathtaking. Jesus in righteous zeal striding across the stage, swinging his whip of cords, driving the sacrificial animals from their place in line. Almost larger than life. Overturning the tables where for a small fee religious visitors could exchange their Roman money for Temple Coins. That inscription “Caesar is god” making the Roman coins unfit for holy offerings. The shouting. The commotion. The controversy.
Who in the world are you, Jesus? What in the world do you think you’re doing? That’s what the Temple authorities and everybody else are asking. Us too. Just a jumble of emotions in reaction.
The 72nd Chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict begins, “As there is a harsh and evil zeal which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a virtuous zeal which separates from vice and leads to God and to life everlasting.”
But we’re all Episcopalians here, guided by restraint. Stiff upper lift. Never let’em see you sweat. Zeal? We’d rather say we’re “interested.” That we have a concern. Form a committee. Write a position paper. Whips? Turning over tables? Not so much.
Roman Catholic New Testament scholar John Meier wrote a very interesting book maybe 25 years ago called Jesus: A Marginal Jew. He’s very interested in this story of the Cleansing of the Temple. He places the story in the context of a controversy in First Century Judaism about the status of this Temple as it was being rebuilt and restored by the Herodian monarchy and funded by the Roman occupiers. The religious establishment seems pretty much have been glad to go along with this aspect of the Capital Campaign, I guess we would say, but for some of the more devout and fervent and zealous Jews of the day the involvement of these unclean sponsors contaminated the whole enterprise.
“Tear this Temple down,” they said, “and by God’s grace the pure and perfect Temple of the LORD will come down from heaven to take its place. Tear this temple down, and God will himself renew the deep communion he intended with his Chosen People. Tear this Temple down, and The Holy One of Israel will bring to completion the ancient promise. A house of prayer for all peoples. Nations will stream to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawning.”
It was just a month or so ago, at the beginning of February, when Mary and Joseph had come to this place with the Poor Man’s offering of two turtledoves, and old Simeon had sung his Nunc Dimittis. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people. A light to lighten the gentiles. The glory of thy people Israel. And how long since that teenager Jesus had scooted away from his parents and come to these Temple precincts, to slip into one of the seminar rooms and interrupt the learned scholars with his precocious questions? Used to be our lesson for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, in the old Prayer Book lectionary. “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”
But now here we are again within the precincts of the Temple. And now this. Our zealous Lord. A zeal not to destroy but to create, to renew, to restore, to refresh. Not to break down but to build up. Not to harm but to heal. Not to curse but to bless.
They couldn’t see it then or be sure just what it all meant. But once they had seen the Resurrection it all came together and makes sense and is true. The old stones on Mt. Zion swept away. A new cornerstone set into the earth. A new foundation. A new House of God’s sacred presence come down from heaven, to be in communion with us. Tear this Temple down, and in three days I will build it new. “He was speaking of the Temple of his body.”
So come and be a part of that. The invitation of Lent, calling for a response. Come and be a part of that. From all of us corporately as his Church from generation to generation. From each of us individually in the quiet of our own heart. It begins with a decision. About loyalty. Connection. Identity. Purpose. About where we belong. St. Paul in First Corinthians 6: “Do you not know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit?” As we pray before coming to the Table. “That we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”
That’s the invitation of Lent for us. What it’s all about. Who it’s all about. All about Jesus. Not about our busyness or deprivation, missing that chocolate or the glass of wine after dinner, about becoming more spiritually advanced or saving the world with the energy of our good works, but about coming to life in Jesus. Entering the Temple, coming to the holy of holies.
Go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, into his courts with praise. Not quite half way through Lent yet but leaning forward to Easter. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. With Good Zeal.