The Third Sunday in Lent (3/11/2012)

Lessons:Exodus 20:1-17 Psalm 19 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 St. John 2:13-22

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

St. John 2:13-22 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 Cleansing the Temple

They were only doing their jobs, those moneychangers in the Temple. Oh we think of them as such horrible people: people who had so defiled the temple that Jesus burst in, turned over their tables, drove them and their animals out of the building, cracking a whip over his head all the while. He was offended, enraged, driven to eradicate the Temple of their presence.

But those moneychangers in the Temple; they were only doing their jobs. They were trying to help people worship. For years the Temple had been a vehicle of God’s grace. They were no less sinful in the first century than we are today. And when the brokenness of their living would affect their community, they needed a way to experience forgiveness. They needed a way to get right with one another, and with God. They needed a way to renew their relationships, and start over again. So they would go to the Temple and offer a gift to God as a symbol of their repentance. A dove. A calf. A coin or two. They left these gifts at the Temple as a sign of their remorse, and having taken their guilt seriously, they went back home to begin again.

There was one problem. Not everyone had a back yard full of doves. Not everyone had a calf that they could spare. Not everyone had the official coins received in the Temple. (Most of them had Roman coinage — unclean coinage that had to be changed into the Jewish counterpart before a gift could be given.) That’s where the moneychangers came in. They positioned themselves at the entrance to the Temple and provided worshipers with what they needed: the right animal, the right coin… It was all there, to help the people worship.

They were only doing their jobs, those moneychangers in the Temple. But Jesus saw something else. He saw a community that had lost its focus. He saw worshippers gathered in the Temple who were more worried about what coin to offer or what animal to present than they were about how God was grieved over their sin. He saw moneychangers who were living pretty well by taking advantage of those who had gathered there. The Temple was no longer a place of prayer and devotion. It was no longer a place where worshippers could draw near to God and experience the depths of grace. It had become a marketplace. A bustling, chaotic, disorganized marketplace. And Jesus wanted to return it to a place of worship.

So over the tables went. Money rolling into corners. Doves flapping about. Cattle roaming loose. Bystanders running for cover. Moneychangers loudly objecting. In doing so, Jesus was very clear: God’s people ought never lose sight of why they are called to gather together. It is so the grace of God might be received. It is so lives of faith might be encouraged. It is so the community might be renewed.

When God’s people lose sight of that, Jesus comes. He comes to restore the church — to bring it back to its center. He comes in love and in anger. Whether in the first century or today, he comes. And so even in the midst of Lent we pray: Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What was the original intent of worship for God’s Hebrew people?
  2. How had they misused the gift of worship?
  3. What did Jesus want to have them experience when they gathered at the Temple?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do I worship, as a Christian?
  2. How might my habits and attitudes and preoccupations keep me from that task?
  3. What might Jesus want to change in me, so that my participation in worship might be what it needs to be?