A Sermon for Lent 3; Exodus 20:1-1, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22
A few years back in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station, a man played his fiddle for the passersby. Some children stopped and stared but were quickly hustled off by their parents. A few people stayed for a minute or two before rushing on to catch their train. A few people threw money into the open violin case. The violinist collected a total of $32.17. The fiddler was Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists. Just weeks earlier he played to a packed house, where tickets sold for $100. Bell was playing one of the most difficult and intricate pieces ever composed for the violin. He played it with world-class skill, and on a world class Stradivarius violin worth million. The whole stunt had been set up to see if anyone would notice. No one truly did, except perhaps a few children who sensed something was up (Hoezee).
This morning Jesus is at the Temple during the Passover festival. There is a money exchange. The local regions where pilgrims came from each had its own currency. Temple tax could only be paid in the temple currency (Harrelson) in part because Greek and Roman coins had the image of a human on one side which made the coins an idol (O’Day). The exchange swapped the pilgrims’ money into the local currency (Keener and Walton). The cattle, sheep, and doves were required for burnt offerings in the Temple were designated in Leviticus. Many of the pilgrims coming to offer sacrifice in the Temple journeyed a great distance and would not have been able to bring the specified animals. They needed to buy animals in Jerusalem. The animal market was needed so they could (O’Day). Both the exchange and marketplace are necessary. Both are provided for in Deuteronomy and Leviticus (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). But something is not right. Why else ~ would Jesus disrupt the whole thing?
It is entirely reasonable that the Temple priests and others would want to know what authority Jesus has to disrupt the Passover Festival. It is a reasonable question after all Passover is the defining Jewish Festival. His answer Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). isn’t really an answer to their question. So of course, everyone misinterprets him. Ask a question about a temple and get an answer with ‘temple’ in it, and the second is the same as the first. Unless of course, you have been to political spokesman school, or you are the Messiah.
John wants to be sure the readers understand, so he tells them, tells us, that Jesus is talking about himself. No one knows about Jesus life to come. There are no great reveals in John’s Gospel story. The story of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension is revealed in his actions.
Part of understanding what is going on at the Temple is to understand how God has been present to us, specifically Israel, up to this point. Here is a Cliff Note, well a Fr Scott Note version. The Garden is where God met us. However, we listened to the Tempter, in the form of a snake, and messed that all up. After the Exodus in the wilderness journey God met us on mountain tops; well ~ at least he met our representative, Moses, there; we were afraid to meet God in person. After the wilderness journey is over God meets Israel through the wisdom and saving actions of the Judges. But the number of Judges stories and the repeating cycle of those stories tell us that that didn’t go so well either. At Israel’s request, God establishes a King to “fight our battles for us.” That doesn’t help the divine-human relationship; now Israel is now relying on the strength of Kings and not trusting the strength of God. God has the smartest man in the world, Solomon, build a Temple to be God’s home on earth (it is far grander than Herod’s). Before long Solomon is married to wives from Egypt, the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonian, and Hittites. They turn his heart away from God and towards the gods of his many wives (1 Kings 11:4.) The Temple has become the home of all sorts of gods. Throughout the many intra and inter kingdom wars God calls prophets to speak the truth and restore the divine-human relationship. We have the stories of 23 or so prophets in the bible who do speak the hard truth. However, there we a whole lot more, hundreds more, in the royal court who tell the king what the king wants to hear. So much for the divine-human relationship.
We have seen that the animal market and money exchange served a purpose. Because of Jesus’ actions, we can discern that once again, the place and how God is present on earth has turned into something else. But there is still more else going on here. The previous story in John is about that wedding in Cana that Jesus saves by turning 180 gallons of water into extraordinary wine. This reveals something of his identity, and the abundance of God’s love (Harrelson; O’Day). So, if Cana is about the revelation of God in Jesus, what does this story reveal about who he is?
The temple is the meeting place between Israel and God. It is a holy place. It is the place where human life and divine blessing meet. It is a thin place. It seems that it is following in the steps of its predecessors. The Temple can no longer be God’s presence on earth. If not the Temple in Jerusalem, then where? John tells us Jesus’ answer to the authorities is not about the Temple, but about him. What we are witnessing through holy story is Jesus is proclaiming that his body is the home of God on earth (Shore; Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Harrelson; O’Day; Gaventa and Petersen).
Continuing with our model of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup, what might lentil soup look like in this story? Jesus challenges the Temple, which like it religious predecessors, is so convinced of the divinity of its rules and practices that it is no longer open to a new revelation from God (Harrelson). It is no longer a thin place. From a church institution perspective, we are called to actively be aware of the trap of equating the authority of our own structures and traditions with the presence of God that we close ourselves off to the possibility of reformation, change, and renewal (O’Day).
The personal perspective it unwinds like this. Many of us have known a thin place, like Camp Mitchell, or church retreat weekend, where we deeply feel God’s mysterious presence. Jesus invites us into a personal relationship. Jesus is the presence of God on earth, therefore, Jesus is a thin place. So, Jesus is inviting us into a thin personal relationship. When we encounter this invitation do we explain away its presence? do we explain away its impact? do we explain away God who knows us and insist we know God? do we explain away I AM in our I AM God? Or ~~ do we risk experiencing the fullness of the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit? (Lewis). Do we risk experiencing Jesus as our thin relationship?
We have been asking “What do we sell our Christian birthright for?” We can miss out on our birthright not only by selling it but by ignoring it, walking on by. Who knows how many people walked on by, rushed on by Joshua Bell? Who knows how often we walk, rush on by a thin relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit? Perhaps we are not being called to give up, or to take on, but to slow down so that we can see, so that we can hear the abundance of divine gifts that are simply all around us all the time. Perhaps we are being called to slow down so we can experience and live in the thin relationship between ourselves and the abundance of divine love.
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Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 2:13-22. 4 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
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