Sermon for March 7/21   Based on John 2: 13-22

Passover is nigh.  Jewish people from all around the Middle Eastern World are making the annual pilgrimage to  the Jerusalem Temple, the House of God.  Jesus too.   Part of the Passover requirement is to make a sacrifice at the Temple, and sacrificial animals must be unblemished.  It doesn’t make sense to try and travel with an animal in tow for any distance and expect it to be unblemished by the time you reached Jerusalem.  Just as easy to buy one once you get there, doves for the poorer folk, a sheep or cattle beast for those with higher financial means.  Over the years, and sanctioned by the Temple’s leadership, businesses sprung up at the Temple to accommodate the pilgrims’ needs.  And temple taxes need to be paid, but the Temple will only take shekels—Roman coins with the Caesar’s image on them aren’t acceptable at the temple.  But living in the Roman Empire meant business was transacted with Roman coin, so it was handy to have the money changers there as well.  It’s busy at the temple, very busy; the place is full of animals and people.  Business is always brisk at Passover.  And this is what Jesus sees when he comes to the Temple.  One of the holiest times of the year for Jewish people, and the Temple, God’s house, the place where God resides, is not a place where people meet to pray, study or worship God.  It’s a bustling market place. And Jesus is angry; I can’t see any other way to interpret his response.  The way John tells it, he makes a whip from cords and drives ‘all of them’ (2.15), people and animals presumably from the Temple, dumps out the money changers’ coins and turns over their tables.  He’s behaving like one of the prophets of old.  Imagine the chaos!  Cattle and sheep running everywhere, money scattered all over, people no doubt trying to gather up their coins and catch the loosed animals, pilgrims trying to escape the melee, dove sellers gathering up their birds.  It would have been bedlam.  To put it into a more modern day context, imagine a load of cattle and sheep breaking free and running loose through the fairgrounds at the height of activities at a fall fair.  Pandemonium!

And Jesus cries out: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  The sacred was being profaned by commerce; business now had precedence in this holy space.  The Temple was being desecrated.  In the place where God was to be foremost and in the fore front, God has taken very much a back seat, almost an ancillary role.  Making money had taken over the house of God. 

 And interestingly, the question the Jews, as John calls them, meaning the Jewish religious authorities, the question they pose to Jesus is: “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” They didn’t deny his reasoning for doing what he did, they just wanted to know who did he think he was to over reach their authority?  They were the temple authorities, the religious leaders, they made the decisions for the Temple; just who did he think he was?  Odds are good the Temple coffers and maybe even the religious leaders got a cut of the business being done there.  And Jesus’ response?  “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  Only in John’s gospel does Jesus provide this rather enigmatic response, this mysterious reply.  With the benefit of hindsight, we know what he meant.  Even the disciples finally understood it, but only after Jesus’ resurrection, as our story tells us.  The temple Jesus was referring to of course, was his body, his body was the house for God.  He was God’s temple.  John is clearly telling his readers just who Jesus was.  Jesus was God incarnate.  Jesus was God.  This was important for John’s community to understand, so he puts this story right near the beginning of his gospel writings, “The promised presence of God would … have been critical for the community to which John was writing.  … this was a Jewish group who had been thrown out of their community for their belief in Jesus.  To hear that in their excommunication and exile God is present would have been exactly what they needed to hear…”[1]   To find Christ, is to find God.   

There is also secondary meaning in this revelation that Jesus was the temple for God, which would have been even more threatening to the Jewish religious system.  This “is an illustration of how Jewish institutions… are meant to be replaced by Jesus.” [2] Remember, for the Jews, God was in the Temple, in the very inner sanctum. But now, Jesus was telling them that the Temple, the pilgrimages to the Temple, the sacrifices, all of it, is replaced by Jesus presence among them.  They didn’t really need to go to the Temple to find God; they needed only to come to Jesus.  No wonder they killed him! Interestingly, the other three gospels also record this story, in one form or another, but place it near the end of Jesus’ ministry, presenting it as the culminating reason for the religious authorities to call for Jesus’ death.

Working on this sermon led me into an interesting train of thinking that rather dominated my thoughts this week.  So, if we can go to Christ to find God, why bother coming to church, or be part of a church community?  People find God in lots of places.  You can stay at home and meditate in your favourite chair.  Or take a walk on a nature trail, or go for a hike in the bush.  People find God in art and in music.  If you appreciate seeing a church service, well, these days more than ever you can stay at home in your pjs with a coffee on Sunday morning—or any time at all for that matter, and peruse the web and find all kind of church services to watch.  Even without internet, there are lots of TV channels offering religious services and discussions of all types.   

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been struggling with what it means to be Church in these pandemic times, what we’re doing or more to the point I suppose, what we’re not doing.  We are called to be Christians, to bring the good news of God in Christ, to the community in which we live; to live our lives as Jesus taught us.  With so much of what we usually do shut down, I wonder what we could we be doing?  Yes, we have more time, and we can most certainly use this time to meditate, to pray, to read, to go more deeply into our relationship with God in Christ, which I have been doing, as best as I can.  And especially now, as that’s really part of what Lent is all about, getting to know God better, deepening our relationship with God, with Christ, experiencing the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. 

We are so very privileged to be living in a part of the country where the pandemic has had a relatively minor impact for most of us.  And I don’t know how you’re feeling, but after almost a year of this, I’m beginning to feel like we’re been in a holding pattern long enough.  I’m wondering what life will be like at the other end of this.  What will our new normal be?  Life will no doubt be different; we can’t go through something like this and not be affected by it.  And how, as Christians will we respond? 

The Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector

The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1] John.  Karoline M. Lewis (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN.2014) 43

[2] The Oxford Bible Commentary. John Barton and John Muddiman, editors.  (Oxford University Press: New York 2001) 965