Cleansing the Temple

By Pastor Jerry Donovan

14 He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:14-16 NET)

This gospel reading is an unusual surprise because it reveals the raw emotion and response of Jesus to the unholy practices taking place in the Temple.  We are surprised by these actions from a side of Jesus we do not recognize.  We may be tempted to ask some questions: Jesus, is that you? What are you doing? It is hard to understand what you are doing here.

These questions may lead to some wide-ranging and interesting explanations, but when we consider the probable motivation behind the actions of Jesus, then at least two things seem clear: First, the space and time of worship for Jesus is supreme and should be for us too.  The place of worship is nothing less than his father’s house and not to be cheapened by market practices.  This space is sacred.  As such, it should remain clean and pure, a suitable dwelling for the Father’s presence, and a place for God to remain with us.

Secondly, it is clear that the use of the temple for taking advantage of people economically, politically, or any other way angers Jesus.  There is a time and place for the church to involve itself in the earthiness of things like economics and politics that represent the new kingdom.  But that place and that time is not during worship. Instead, the temple is a place where worship is elevated above all else.  Everything else fades away.  It must be a time un-diluted and un-compromised by anything else; to draw near to God the Father.  

Many religious folk appreciate Jesus driving out the moneychangers and restoring proper use of the temple.  We agree that the temple should be a holy space, clean and pure, for the special purpose of meeting with God.  But as we move to the end of the passage, we feel Jesus’ actions and words encircling us: 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22 NET)

Jesus transformed the meaning of the passage by redefining what is understood as Temple.  No longer is it the brick and mortar of a building structure, but the temple is the flesh and blood of a body, His body.  And since His Ascension, we, the church, remain as His body on Earth.  And as such, our very own bodies are the temple of His Spirit. 

For Jesus the space of the new temple is still supreme.  Our bodies are the temples of his Spirit, not to be cheapened by anything less.  We are called to keep our bodies clean and pure, a holy place suitable for dwelling with the Father.  There are many appropriate uses of our bodies, but there comes a moment when everything else must fade away and we remain in worship with God the Father.

In this Lenten season, let us all consider the following questions; what remains in our lives that Jesus would overturn or drive out when he enters our temple? How can we re-dedicate our temple to be a clean and holy space suitable to dwell with God the Father? During this season, let us open wide the gates of the temple and commit to moments when everything else fades away except for moments of dwelling with God the Father.  Jesus please enter our temple again and drive out everything else.