The tough thing about following a lectionary of scripture readings is that we don’t always get the story in proper order. In fact, we don’t always get readings from the same Gospel that we’ve been reading from these past weeks… However, we do still get a continuous theme which moves us closer to the Passion narratives in Holy week.
Our reading today, for example, comes from the Gospel of John—fairly early in John’s Gospel for that matter. It’s an account that happens soon after Jesus called his disciples, and has just been to the wedding feast in Cana where he turned water to wine.
So, technically, today’s reading really marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in John’s Gospel…
Perhaps it’s not a text book way of beginning a ministry (chasing out merchants from the Temple), but it did set a precedent (to say the least). Besides it’s kind of fun to see Jesus get everyone riled up, especially in matters of injustice.
But as it turns out, these merchants in the Temple courts were offering a valid service to pilgrims who would have found it difficult to bring their own sacrifices from long distances.
This area of the Temple was well known as a kind of market, in fact, for that very reason.
Likewise, the money changers had the job of making certain that people coming to offer a monetary offering had the proper Temple currency to do so. (So, big deal.)
Now, admittedly, some of these people were probably not always completely honest in their dealings. This is made pretty explicit in the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke where Jesus accuses them of making the place a den of robbers.
John’s Gospel, however throws us no such bone. In fact, there is very little to suggest any wrongdoing on the part of the merchants. Instead, it appears that Jesus is simply angry at their very presence, and runs them out to make a different point.
When Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees for his reason for doing this, the Gospel writer reveals to us this point in a very cryptic way. Specifically that Jesus is the replacement both for the sacrifices of the Temple, and even the Temple itself.
What John’s Gospel is saying is that by virtue of him being the Incarnation of God, and soon to be the perfect sacrifice for the whole world—the Temple is basically rendered obsolete…
All the same, Jesus is said to be cleansing the Temple. Why would he cleanse something that he believes to be obsolete?
The synoptic Gospels, of course tell us what he is cleansing the Temple from: Namely greed and dishonest merchants. But John’s Gospel brings up a different issue, specifically what Jesus is cleansing the Temple for… And from his explanation to the Pharisees, I think it is safe to say that he is preparing the Temple, the people—even the world for his sacrifice.
In the practice of sacrificial rites, it was required that not only the priest administering the sacrifice, but the place of the sacrifice should go through a process of ritual cleansing. The Temple, of course, would otherwise have already been considered clean—at least in terms of animal sacrifice. However, the kind of sacrifice that Jesus was to be was of far greater import. Because he would be giving himself for the whole world. Not to mention the fact that he is the Incarnation of the invisible God.
What’s more, there is this sense that John places this event at the beginning of the Gospel narrative because the sacrifice that Jesus will offer is more than a few hours on the cross. Instead, his sacrifice is all of his life and public witness to the love God. A thing that encompasses far more than those moments contained in the Passion narratives. So, that Jesus is not simply a sacrificial lamb, but is instead that Passover Lamb which has become part of the family, but must still be killed. In this way, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes about his entire life with and for us.
In following his example, then, we try to live sacrificially. We try to live lives which reflect our belonging to God. We seek continually to live as though we no longer belong to ourselves, but to God and to others.
But, inevitably, as all of us know, over time we become less focused. Our lives become cluttered, and before we know it our vision of Jesus is obscured.
If we continue in such a state, it becomes impossible for us to offer ourselves sacrificially.
Thankfully, in this Lenten Season we’re given time to “re-prepare” ourselves as God’s people. This is not only to prepare for the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. We’re also reminded of what it is to be made a sacrifice ourselves—a living sacrifice as St. Paul says.
And in this preparation, we’re made aware of those things which must be driven out of our lives. Those things which make our way less clear. Most importantly, we’re given time to prepare ourselves and our lives as a sacred place where the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ can be made real.
If we can do this, rather than simply going through the motions and emotions of Easter; we make space to be transformed again by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. With all of the obstacles pushed out of our way, then, the transformation of that sacrificial and redeeming gift will be allowed to shine through us—to shine through our lives. But only if we take the time to prepare and drive out those things which complicate us unnecessarily.