March 8th, 2015
“A Temple Remade”
John 2: 13-22
The human body is an absolute miracle! Multiple systems of delicate biological machinery all working together in sync (some working a bit more in sync than others…)- able to respond to our will or to respond to our instincts. Our bodies can do some really cool stuff!
We have all heard stories of people having moments of super human strength, like a mother lifting a car off of a child. Or perhaps you’ve heard of the woman in India that they refer to as the “human calculator”, I remember learning about her in elementary school. She immortalized herself in the Guinness Book of World Record when she solved the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers in less than 28 seconds – just using what’s between her ears.
Even in the just simple things, the human body is a powerful and hard working machine. Did you know that the muscles that control our eyes contract about 100,000 times per day? If our leg muscles were to do that, it would be the same as about a 50-mile walk. Our eyes work really hard. Or did you know that every person, except twins, have a completely unique smell, like a fingerprint? Or that, pound for pound, our bones are four times stronger than concrete?
Sometimes when I think about God having a human body, it catches me by surprise. To know that our God has taste buds, and that his eye muscles contract 100,000 times per day. Our God has a unique smell. God knows the feeling of sun on skin.
And while this is an amazing thought, it is a sobering one too…
Because this means that God didn’t just take of the marvelous aspects of human form- the good stuff, but he took on all of the problematic things too. He took on sickness, took on the feeling of hunger (just think how weak you would feel after 40 days fasting in the desert), he took on pain, he took on the agony of that horribly funny felling when your foot falls asleep, he took on the full array of our human emotions – carried around his body by his very own endocrine system. Including the emotion that we experience in our Scripture passage today, anger.
I don’t know about you… But… I’m far more comfortable thinking about God as our kindly Heavenly Father or Almighty Creator, a being that is far more and far greater than flesh and blood. I’m more comfortable thinking about God as perfect and invulnerable. The Jews believed that God’s presence resided at the temple. Tucked away in the inmost room they called the Holy of Holies. A place of deep reverence and awe. No one would go anywhere near that room unless they were a priest, intersess-ing for the people. I’m more comfortable with a pleasant God tucked away, only to be handled by the experts.
Yet our God is a man, named Jesus of Nazareth. Flesh and bones, subject to the same vulnerabilities, weakness and possibilities that we are. One that is able to identify with us as a fellow human. One that is able and eager to have a personal relationship with us.
The idea of the incarnate God (the divine taking on a physical body- becoming human) it overwhelms me!
Just soak that in for a moment: God’s love and authority localized in a human body.
The Creator of the cosmos- humbled into a human form, subject to things like the common cold for our sake.
This is exactly what our Scripture addresses today…
Our Gospel passage is a familiar story, Jesus “cleansing” the temple.
I remember seeing a play adaptation of the passion narrative when I was a child at a big mega church in Lansing, MI. Actually we would go pretty much every year! This church was famous for this play! And right at the beginning of the show, every time, they would have this beautiful palm processional, with bright colors and happy/ lively music. And everyone leaned into the performance because it was so joyful. But then all of the lights would dim suddenly and glow red! And then the guy portraying Christ would yell out, “Get out! Get out!” And then you heard this whip crack in your ear. The seats in the sanctuary practically rumbled as Jesus yelled and hollered and over turned tables and threw stuff around the stage.
I remember every time I saw this play, thinking, “Why is Jesus so angry!? He isn’t supposed to be angry, he’s Jesus?! And what is he doing to the temple?”
But here he is, in the temple court! Yelling, throwing things, “seeing red”! Jesus being swept up by his problematic endocrine system. Lashing out in anger.
Now, this scene of Jesus’ outrage in the temple, appears in all four gospel accounts. Matthew Mark and Luke, (the synoptics) they each place this scene right after Jesus’ final triumphant arrival in Jerusalem, just a week before his arrest and crucifixion. Each of these gospels point to this scene in the temple court as the inciting incident for Jesus’ arrest. Let’s picture it:
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. He is greeted by a crowd of people who eagerly anticipate hearing what this radical rabbi had to say! And then Jesus goes right to the temple, where he stumbles upon “business as usual”. You see, the temple court being a market place was expected, especially around the time of the Passover Festival. Faithful Jews would travel, practically, from a world away to come to the Temple in Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice. But because they traveled so far, very few of them would bring their own lamb or dove to offer at the Temple. They would save up their money and buy one at the Temple market.
So, of course, this place would be a big time place for money exchangers and salesmen.
This was all just a part of the Temple system.
The market place, in the eyes of the practical locals, provided a necessary (albeit lucrative) service.
So, when Jesus walks in and starts throwing stuff around, he is creating a big time public ruckus. It’s not like he was doing the police a favor by breaking up some kind of Black Market operation. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, this scene is the straw that breaks the camels back and leads to his arrest.
But, as you may have noticed, our Gospel lesson today does not come from Matthew, Mark or Luke but rather from John’s Gospel.
John places this incident right at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. The first public ministry act that Jesus performs in John is turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Then this is the very next scene.
But as they say, John’s Gospel is a wading pool that an elephant can roll around in, because there is a lot of symbolism here.
In John’s Gospel, when Jesus gets mad and starts cracking the whip in the Temple’s court, he is not making a statement about reverence, or right conduct, or greed, or mismanagement of Church property, but he is making a statement about the whole Temple system and about the presence of God.
With every crack of the whip, he is calling for a complete dismantling of the Temple system.
As I mentioned earlier, ancient Jews believed that God’s presence resided in the Temple room called the Holy of Holies.
But with Christ, where is God’s presence?
Within that flushed faced, angry, ruckus making man in the courtyard.
That’s where God is!
God is not in the Holy of Holies, but God is present and walking around in their midst in the incarnate Christ!
John’s Gospel makes a point, right out of the gate, that things are changing. The temple is not necessary. God doesn’t live away, apart, tucked aside within the temple… Conveniently located there so we can visit once a year at Passover.
At the center of this whole scene, lays the important theological question: Where is God now?
Listen to the exchange that follows:
“The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered then, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”
God didn’t live in the Temple building, God lived in him. In Christ’s body- in the bodily temple. In this flesh and blood. In his bones that were four times as strong as concrete.
Yet, that bodily temple would be destroyed, in a very human way with the death of Christ on the cross. Leveled to the ground.
Which leads us to again ask the question again: Where is God now?
If God is not in the Temple… If God is not just this abstract Creator living in the sky, but rather a man who died on a cross, who localized God’s love – then died… Where is God now?
Jesus said, “destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
And He did. Conquering, while he was at it, all the things that made him vulnerable: sickness, fear, death…
In rising up a new temple, God imbued the world with the Holy Spirit.
So, we ask: where is God now? The answer is, everywhere the spirit is! Everywhere!
In the end, when we boil down this passage, Jesus is saying that his body is the location of God- the new temple, but as his time on earth has come and gone… we are now the gathered body of Christ. Your body. My body. Thanks to the presence and the movements of the Holy Spirit we once again make God’s presence possible/ known/ alive/ vital on this earth. And our God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is counting on that! Because God loves this world! God’s incarnation came to an end on that cross… But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t present here on earth anymore. Because God has you.
As Saint Teresa of Avila said:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth,
Yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good.
And yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.
St. Teresa means that quite literally. How we witness to God’s love in the world is not just about the words that we say. Our witness is to show God’s love. To embody Christ. To be those hands and feet. To be those eyes that look with great mercy on the needs of this world.
So where is God now? In you. In me.
When was the last time you thought about how well your actions speak to God’s love? This week, as we continue on our Lenten journey towards the cross, I want you to do that. Think about the words that leave your month (when you are talking to your spouse/ your children/ your coworkers/ friends)- do the words coming out of your mouth speak the love of God? Think about the work that your hands are put to- Do they offer something of God’s love? When you go to shake someone’s hand, or to wrap your arms around someone for a hug- are you embracing them with God’s love?
Because yours is the body of Christ.
And as Spiderman would say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Let us pray,
Holy God, we confess to you that we are not always great about remembering to honor your body as our body. We are not always that thoughtful about our actions. Lord, help us. Strengthen us to think before we act, before we respond. Help us to slow down and think about the witness of our actions. For we want nothing more than to reflect your love to this world. Thank you God for being here in the room among us. But we know that you go with us wherever we go: work, home, out in the community… you are with us. Thank you God. Amen