The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas
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.
In this morning’s reading we encounter an all too familiar story, in a not familiar place. We read of Jesus “cleansing the temple.” In the synoptic gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke, this story comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry. It serves as the precipitating event to His crucifixion. But in John’s gospel, it comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry after the wedding at Cana. However, by mentioning that this occurs when Jesus goes to Jerusalem at the time of Passover, John is certainly pointing to the end that is to come regarding Jesus’ crucifixion. Nonetheless, by placing it at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry there is more at stake for John. It is in this way, that it can be read as not simply a looking forward in the ministry of Jesus but a charge to those who would follow him. So, what is that charge? What is it that Jesus is calling is followers to do?
There is a wide variety of biblical resources and scholarship that helps to unravel what is a very rich, if not complicated story. I will not attempt to engage in that discussion. However, it is worth noting that given the fact that it was Passover, the activities taking place in the Temple were not entirely inappropriate. The Passover festival included the sacrifice of certain animals as well as the availability of animals to be sacrificed for those who were without them. It also necessitated “money-changers,” for those who did not have the appropriate coins to pay the temple-tax. Even still, Jesus was clearly upset by what he saw going on. And so, with outrage he proclaimed, “Get these out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a market-place.”
In reading this story anew for this meditation offering, as Jesus alludes in the explanation that follows to his own body as the Temple of God’s, he suggests to us something about our very bodies. Just as Jesus was the perfect embodied revelation of God, we are to be—even with our imperfect selves—embodied reflections of God. Through who we are in the world, we are to show forth the very image of God. And so, it is, that as Jesus cleanses the temple of that which would corrupt it, we are called to cleanse ourselves of that which might betray, compromise or corrupt who we are to be as embodied reflections of God in our world. We are called to ask: What are the things that we must free ourselves of so that we can best show forth the loving, healing and just God that is reflected in the ministry of Jesus? What is it that we must call out from ourselves?
It is fitting, therefore, that we would encounter this story at the beginning of our Lenten journey. For this is a journey of self-reflection and re-centering. It is a time of freeing ourselves of that which gets in the way of being who God has called us to be.