God’s presence in the Temple foreshadowed God’s presence in Jesus and in every Christian, but this is easy to forget. Sometimes Jesus has to grab our attention and turn it back to God.
‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ Jn 2:25
What has Jesus done to turn your attention back to God?
How can you “cleanse your temple” this Lent?
This theme runs through the opening chapters of John’s Gospel. Moses’ teachings foreshadowed the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ (1:17). When asked if he were the messiah, John the Baptist pointed instead to Jesus. At Cana, the water that was set aside to fulfill the law became the wine that foreshadowed the great feast at the end of time. Soon after the episode in today’s Gospel, Jesus helped Nicodemus understand that physical birth prefigures a second birth, “from above,” when each Christian receives the Spirit. Each of these passages points to God at work in some way people have missed.
This is also the message of today’s readings. The Ten Commandments, for example, were not arbitrary obligations but reminders of that day when God said to Israel, “I am the Lord your God!” The commandments reminded Israel that God was present. This divine presence was Israel’s most treasured possession. Many Israelites believed that God was really present in the Temple. This belief is clearly shown in the name usually used for the Temple in Jerusalem, bêt yhwh, “House of Yahweh.” (By contrast, the technical Hebrew term for a temple, hêkāl, is comparatively rare.) In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus plays on this understanding. Literally, the Greek reads, “Stop making the temple of my Father a temple of merchandise.” Jesus takes dramatic action to refocus attention on the divine presence in the Temple.
The activity he interrupts was not illegal or even clearly unethical. The moneychangers ensured that Jews visiting the Temple could abide by the very laws mentioned in our first reading. Roman coins bore images of foreign deities. Such objects profaned the temple and were banned from its precincts. The livestock merchants were important as well. God’s own law demanded animal sacrifice, and the poor of Jerusalem depended on the uneaten portions of the Temple sacrifices for their own sustenance. The buzz of these transactions, however, drew attention away from the treasure within, God’s own presence.
Jesus’ actions caused this activity to cease temporarily and gave worshippers the opportunity to remember why the Temple was holy. Jesus imposed a brief “fast” on the Temple. As this Sunday’s second reading explains, God’s wisdom is not always clear to human beings. John the Evangelist presents this episode as the beginning of opposition to Jesus. Those who did understand learned something deeper. Jesus is the true temple. His own body brought to completion the work that God had started at Sinai. Jesus takes the divine presence “on the road,” and hands it over to his disciples after his resurrection.
Today’s Gospel reminds us how challenging it is to keep our attention on God. If people can forget God even in the Temple, how much more can they forget God present in their brothers and sisters. When Jesus silenced the commotion in his Father’s house, he taught us to drive out all that distracts us so that we might catch sight of God’s presence in the hearts of all.