When I was young, one of the special persons in my life was my grandmother on my mother’s side. We called her Nanny and she would come sometimes and stay with us for several weeks or a month. By that time in her life, Nanny wasn’t able to do a lot of things. She didn’t drive and didn’t do much around the house. But she was a fun loving, spiritual and caring individual. She loved all of her grandchildren and we loved being with her. Nanny had some special habits and hobbies. She loved to stay up late at night, perhaps 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and she slept until about 1:00 in the afternoon. She also loved to watch professional wrestling. Pro wrestling used to come on TV around 11:30 at night and sometimes we got to stay up and watch with her. Why this lovely, genteel lady who wouldn’t hurt anyone liked pro wrestling is not something I can explain.
What I do know is that sometimes people like to watch fights especially those that they know will not be particularly harmful. I think about going to professional hockey matches and the fans getting excited when two hockey players start to fight. Fans stand up to watch. The cheers and the jeers fill the stadium.
Well, today we have a fight, or at least an altercation, involving someone we didn’t expect. Jesus gets angry with the moneychangers and those selling animals for sacrifice in the Temple. I wonder how many quickly ran to see the action, how many wanted to see it just for the sport. Did anyone really want to know what he said or what he was trying to accomplish?
Unlike the fights in hockey and professional wrestling, this wasn’t something done just for show. It reminds me of the anger that God demonstrated to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, the times God decided to punish the people because they were unfaithful.
The very fact that Jesus became angry and took action against those who had profaned the Temple was amazing. We always think of Jesus as the healer, both physically and emotionally, and yet here he is shouting instructions to those who did wrong. In response to people who questioned him, Jesus’ actions provide us with an important message, a message about his reason for coming to earth.
Each of the other three gospel writers placed this event in the week that Jesus was crucified. They made the point that Jesus’ actions caused the Temple leaders to be so angry that they put him to death. But John describes this scene at the very beginning of his gospel, at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. John wants us to know from the start that we find God in Jesus, he is our temple. Jesus was describing his horrible death and the good news that he would be raised up again after three days. It is the centerpiece of our faith.
Let us consider why Jesus made such a scene in the first place. Jews were required to come to the Temple and to offer a sacrifice. They came from all over the world and needed to change their money into Jewish coins. It is likely that those changing money and those selling animals for sacrifice were trying to take advantage of the pilgrims, tipping the scales so to speak. They were most likely encroaching on the sacredness of the Temple, moving ever closer to the holy place. Jesus didn’t want the honor of his Father’s name to be treated that way. He didn’t want the poor people to be taken advantage of. The changing of money and the selling of sacrifices took place in the Court of the Gentiles, the last place that non-Jewish people could go. I would say that Jesus wanted everyone, including the Gentiles, to know that God loves us as we are, that there is no need to pay for a burnt offering to have a relationship with God. We don’t have to pay a Temple tax to live in God’s spirit.
This Jesus we encounter today is so different than the Jesus we will experience during Holy Week. This Jesus is strong and determined, willing to fight for his Father in Heaven. This Jesus seeks social justice for the poor Jewish people of his day. This Jesus seeks inclusiveness for the Gentiles in his world. When Jesus was arrested during Holy Week, he became quiet, often silent when he was confronted by his accusers. Perhaps Jesus knew that his time on earth was not just about teaching or healing, it was also about being. Jesus chose to be with us in all of our lifetime experiences. He even chose to be with us in our death. And through his death he leads us into a new life, the life of the resurrected Jesus, the life of the glory of God.
The more important words in this Scripture come from the response he gave to the people who confronted him. Some of the Jewish people wanted a sign from Jesus, proof that he was from God. Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Later we are told that Jesus was referring to his own body, that he would be crucified and raised up on the third day.
I would say that Jesus was not just referring to his own body as a Temple. I was inspired this week by a commentary written by a lady named Debie Thomas who wrote about our bodies as a holy and wonderful offering to God. She suggested that Jesus wants each of us to think about our bodies as temples. As we continue our Lenten preparation for Holy Week, I would ask you to think about how you might consider your body a temple, a good place to welcome God into our lives. It seems that so often we think of our bodies in negative terms. I am too fat. I don’t like my gray hair. I wish that my clothes fit better. I don’t like my wrinkles. Or I don’t like the way I look as I get older.
In this world, we tend to glorify beautiful bodies and people are made to feel badly if they cannot look like the models on TV. All this, of course, forgets about the fact that the models are often unhappy with their bodies as well. Even in our religious lives, we often come to believe that our bodies are somehow sinful, something to be controlled so as not to cause us trouble.
In the spirit of Jesus’ statement today, can we think of our bodies as a place to welcome God? Can we see our bodies as a temple of the spirit? Can we realize the grace and beauty that we have been given? Can we see that our bodies were meant to be used in worship, to offer hospitality to others? Do we know how much God wishes to be with us in body, mind and spirit?
When we open ourselves to God, then we invite God to give us faith to follow. We ask God in today’s Psalm to cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
God is our strength; through God we are enlightened.
There is a song that was written by Brian Wren called Good is the Flesh. The song reminds us that Jesus was the incarnation, the coming of God to earth. The last verse goes like this,
Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,
glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,
good is the body, for good and for God,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Despite all of our faults, we are made in the image of God. During this Lenten season, we take the time to remember God’s blessings to us and to consider how we might prepare for the glory of that Easter morning. I ask you to think about opening up your body, your mind and your spirit to God. For God loves you just the way you are. Invite God to come into you that you might live in God. I say that God wanted us to open ourselves that we might live in God’s glory. And let us give thanks for Jesus. He was willing to fight for the honor due to God the Father. He was willing to fight for each of us and he was willing to die that we might find God and receive God’s mercy. We find God in and through Jesus. Let us worship God with every fabric of our being by praising God, by praying to God and by listening and following the words of Jesus. Amen.