Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money-changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: ‘Zeal for your house will devour me’.
The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.
During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.
Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Lent
The Temple of Jerusalem did not survive long after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was destroyed in the year 70 by Rome in retaliation for a Jewish Revolt. The site of the Temple remained as a ruin, for some centuries, and its despoliation took on symbolic significance for Christians, an indicator of the new age and even a supplanting of Judaism by Christianity in the Constantinian settlement (a view that at best needs nuancing, as is made clear in the Church’s teaching about the continuing privileged place of Judaism in God’s self-revelation and commitment to humankind). Later the site of the Temple became a place for Muslim devotion and worship and so it has remained.
For Christians, the former Jewish Temple(s) retain a spiritual significance, not least because of its place in the narratives and psalms of our Old Testament, but perhaps it registers with us most strongly because of its being the location of episodes in the infancy, childhood and passion of Jesus, and this present episode of the cleansing of the Temple.
But we miss the abiding significance of the event if we see it just as an historical event to do with a building no longer of significance for us because we have Christ, THE ‘place’ for us to encounter and be in communion with God. The episode of the cleansing of the Temple can symbolise that continual need of being cleansed which we ourselves have, if we are to be fit for purpose, fit to fulfil our potential as children of God; a holy nation; a people dedicated to him and to service of the Kingdom. And not just us as individuals, with our individual sins and strayings. St Paul said that together we Christians are a holy Temple. At least as significant as Lent as a time for individuals to repent and seek the grace of conversion and renewal, Christians need to seek grace to know where the Church on earth, in its institutions and its present priorities and practices, may have lost its way and become stale, even corrupt, and an obstacle to the Gospel.
That way we will can be sure not only to share in the dying of Christ, but also in his resurrection, to be raised even in our so fallible humanity to share in his divinity.
- Where do you see folly or error?
- How might you draw on the grace of God to help remedy that?
Stained glass, St Mary’s, Warwick. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.