My Father's House: Jesus and Purifying the Temple

My sisters and brothers in Christ, today’s gospel paints an unfriendly picture of Jesus. It is disturbing, and quite frankly contrasts the hippy folk hero that we often attribute to Christ. It is a gospel that is found in all four books of the New Testament and it signals the seriousness of Jesus’ mission. Jesus’ consuming zeal was a statement about the faith and about the religion. This a story about how Jesus begins his mission to reform a religion that was exploiting the common people who were seeking to find God.

John makes a clever connection with Jesus coming to the temple for Passover. Jesus becomes the new Moses, who will lead the people to a new Passover, from death to life, to be truly redeemed. He must first purify the temple which was selling goods that were plundered and resold for sacrifice. It was stolen goods and clearly unworthy for an offering to God because it broke the Mosaic law, put the consumers into sin and, thus, these shady money changers did not belong in the Father’s house.

It is apparent the religious leaders were complicit in this illegal economy and Jesus is calling them to task. Yet, there was a brief moment when “the Jews” these rabbis, seem to be somewhat willing to listen to Jesus. They asked for sign looking to test if Jesus was a true prophet. His response was clever and often our English translation does not highlight the nuances of the biblical greek language.
Jesus challenges the Jews to destroy the temple (heiron), and he would raise the sanctuary, this holy place (naos) to new life. The greek word for the temple that the Jews were using in this gospel is the word herion which refers to the motor and brick; in other words, the physical structure. The word Jesus used to describe what he was raising is the word naos (also temple, but does not necessarily refer to the actual structure).

The Jewish authority did not pick up on Jesus’ wordplay. They failed to hear and to respond God’s word in Jesus and the invitation to be agents of change for the sake of God’s church. Rather, the Jewish authorities were quick to mock Jesus because they kept thinking that Jesus would destroy the physical temple (heiron), not his body (the naos). Because these leaders went back to business as usual, they failed to recognize who Jesus really was and how the chasm between God and humanity had finally come vis-à-vis in Christ.

Today the church still struggles to find its footing in Christ. It is easy for the church to get caught up with agendas, operate like a corporate business and become something that fails to support the living church—the people.

There was a story last week about a church in Pennsylvania that chose to do a blessing of AR-15 rifles during a church service to show their support for the NRA and the Second Amendment of the American constitution; rather than praying and actually rallying to bring about a Christ like change to protect children by being God’s prophetic voice of reason.

Sometimes we forget that we are to help maintain the structure of the living church. We can lead people into sin when our own actions, attitudes and desires take precedent over our sisters and brothers faith needs. Sometimes we build our own image of Christ that distorts who God really is all in order to satisfy our own conscience when our faith journey gets tough. Or we hold onto physical church and think it is our own, not to be shared with others that this is my pew, this my spot in the church, you better move.

The reality is we need to see that the Church is not simply a building. It is real, it breaths, it has countless voices and most importantly it is founded and unified in the person of Christ in which we are members and, metaphorically speaking, are the mortar and brick. So as we come to the Eucharistic table, we are reminded that our church has a cornerstone in the person of Christ who builds through us to be a visible and accessible sign of Christ peace and love in the world as one church. Amen.

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