March 4, 2018
Deacon Paul Lewis
Up to now in this Lenten Season, Mark has been the voice of the Sunday gospel readings.
However, this Sunday we move from Mark’s Gospel, a gospel that describes Jesus’ ministry at a very fast pace, packed with precise, orderly details, to John’s Gospel, full of stirring images and emotion.
Each of the four gospels describe the scene of Jesus driving out the merchants from the Temple.
But what is unique to John is that he places this scene at the beginning of his gospel. It’s the second of many signs that John will describe in his Gospel.
If we take a close look at John’s Gospel, we find this scene in the Temple follows immediately after the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, the first of his many signs.
From Cana and the festive family celebration in a home we move to Jerusalem and the somber courts of the Temple in Jerusalem.
From a scene where Jesus is surrounded by believers, by his mother and disciples, to the temple in Jerusalem where there is conflict, peril, and staunch disbelief of the “Jews”, who John describes as the religious authorities hostile to Jesus.
And as is usually the case with John’s Gospel, there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
The money changers in the temple… they actually performed a very necessary service. For the Passover feast, Jews came from all over to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
People coming from a long distance would not have brought the necessary sacrifices with them. And because they came from far away, the only money they would have is Roman coins, with an image of Caesar or other pagan gods.
This money would have been unfit for temple purchases, and so money changing became indispensable. Likewise sellars of animals to be used for sacrifice were a necessary part of the commerce in the temple.
Jesus accuses the merchants of turning his Father’s house into a marketplace. But the truth of the matter part of the temple area was a marketplace.
So why is Jesus so irate? A clue lies in the Book of the Prophet Zechariah. The prophet describes that on the day of fulfillment, the day of the coming of the Messiah,
there shall no longer be any merchant in the house of the Lord of hosts.
By clearing out the merchants in the Temple, Jesus is announcing the arrival of the Messianic Age.
The Jewish authorities weren’t as upset about what he did, as about by what authority he had to do it. What they wanted from Jesus was a sign that he was the one sent by God; the fulfillment of the promise God made through the prophets.
Jesus’ forceful actions upon entering the Temple and driving out the merchants was a sign that his ministry would be to replace that lifeless cult that had characterized the Temple.
He was to cast out the old system of worship in the great Temple of Jerusalem with the new, living Temple of his body. The sacrifices of the Temple would be replaced by his one, perfect sacrifice on the cross.
Like people who went to the Temple, we come to this place, to worship with the community and be in a holy place before God.
But, too often, places dedicated to worship can become places of routine and conformity to the prevailing culture.
If Jesus entered the sanctuaries of our lives, the sanctuaries of our souls, what would he want to turn over and drive out?
Our frozen ideas about God? Our coziness and withdrawal from the outside world? Our incorporation of the values of our culture, where sports, activities, entertainment, and concern about what “my” needs are take precedence over Gospel values?
Would he want to overturn those tables of our sinful lives brought on by the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, or sloth?
Or maybe the most difficult table of all… that of not noticing, the table of forgetting God’s great love for each of us.
But this is the opportunity of Lent. We began Lent by stepping back and looking at those practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
We set aside this season knowing that God is calling us to something more, hoping that we can draw closer to the one who loves us.
But the reality is that God is already close. God is waiting on us to notice. Jesus waits for us to allow him to overturn the tables, to humanize the temple inside you and me, and rid us of all that keep us from being his faithful disciples, from loving him and one another.
In trust, in hope, and yes, maybe even in uneasiness and discomfort, let us invite Jesus to overturn those tables of our lives, and let the “holy chaos” begin.