Gospel of John 2:13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the
temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers
seated at their tables. 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. He told those who were selling the doves,
“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume
me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his
body. 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.
Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod; (James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum via
When the world gets too chaotic, it’s comforting to know we have a place to go. We all need a shelter of hope, a refuge of promise, a sanctuary
for transcendence. As St. Paul’s is such a place for us, so the Temple in Jerusalem was sacred space for the Jews.
Jerusalem’s Temple was paramount to most Jews. The First Temple
was built and completed by King Solomon in 964 BCE (building process from
970 – 964 BCE – 1 Kings 5-9). It served the Hebrew people as a center for
their sacrificial rituals until 586 BCE, when the city of Jerusalem was seized
and the Temple destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II.
After King Cyrus II of Assyria defeated the Babylonians, he allowed the
Hebrews to return to their land, sometime around 538 BCE. After returning to
Jerusalem, rebuilding of the Temple commenced. As governor of Judah,
Zerubbabel finished the Second Temple around 520 BCE.
The idea of animal sacrifice was an ancient tradition of feeding and
pleasing the gods. Hebrews fed their God only as a symbolic act,
acknowledging that the God of Abraham was beyond human capabilities and
needs. Even so, they believed God was present in God’s Holy Temple and
through the ritual sacrifices and burnt offerings the people strived to please the
God of their ancestors.
The restoration of the sacrificial ritual in 520 BCE solidified the
standard of Jewish worship. (from The historical importance and practical history of
rebuilding ancient Judaism’s sacred center, by Lawrence H. Schiffman.)
In the year 19 BCE, King Herod the Great (Herod I) began
reconstruction of the Temple grounds. He made the Temple an enormous,
magnificent, glistening wonder. Construction was not finished until 63 AD.
Jesus witnessed this colossal reconstruction, and he predicted the Temple’s
demise. In fact, Jerusalem’s Temple was destroyed for the final time by the
Roman army in 70 AD, just 7 years after its completion.
On occasion, Jesus commented in opposition to the worship standard of
ritual sacrifice. There were also pockets of Jews who did not prescribe to sacrifice
as the standard of Jewish worship. One such group, the Essenes, is now known for
the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Similar to the Essenes, Jesus’ message was taken from the prophet Hosea:
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than
burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6). But the ruling religious elete would not listen.
And, while the ancient prophets didn’t always agree, they insisted that God
deserved worship and that “(God’s) house will be called a house of prayer for all
nations" (Isaiah 56:7).
John’s gospel is most unique. Unlike the other three gospels included in
our Christian Bible, the writer of John’s gospel places the story of Jesus
cleansing the Temple apart from his triumphant entry and palm-waving
welcome into the city. Instead, the author places it near the very beginning of
Jesus’ ministry. In John’s gospel this early story sets the stage of contempt
between the Jewish religious ruling-class and Jesus.
Jesus looked upon his contemporaries’ twisting of religious piety as
blashamous. Travelers could not use their own familiar currency because it
usually contained an image of something or someone on the coin.
Worshipers were allowed to use only Temple currency. The rate of
exchange was arbirary – not in favor of the worshipper. Temple animals were
available for sacrifice at high prices. Temple Examiners of animals were
persnickety. Most animals brought to the Temple by travelers were found to
have grave imperfections, even if they actually didn’t exist. Imperfections
were not allowed to be sacreficed to God – even if imagined imperfections.
Worshipers were cheated out of money. Sacrifices were often seen as
means of profit for the Temple elite. Jesus couldn’t contain his anger. His Father
deserves better. Yet, this act of cleansing the Temple was the first nail in Jesus’
When asked to show a sign of his authority for turning the tables of the
money changers and driving out all the animals, Jesus answered: “Destroy this
temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Jesus’ response adds a new dimension to understanding both Jesus and our
Jesus understood himself as being God’s Temple: a shelter of hope,
a refuge proclaiming God’s promise of justice, peace, mercy and love,
a sacred home where God resides; a place of selfless love, where people’s lives can
intersect with their God.
After his resurrection, Jesus gave the same responsibility to his disciples.
Jesus’ disciples were to live as people filled with God’s hope, people proclaiming
and living God’s justice, peace, mercy and love, people acknowledging God’s
presence living within them and empowering them, people willing to love
unselfishly so that, through them, others may intersect with God.
After the final destruction of the Temple, the Jews, as they now could be
called, no longer could feed God with physical sacrifices, rather serving God with
prayer and obedience to his laws. (paraphrase from David B. Green, Aug. 11, 2014)
Jesus taught that there was purpose to the 10 Commandment and Mosaic
Law, but at the same time, God was not obsessed with obedience to Mosaic Law,
but longed for people to live the heart of the Law: Loving God with all we are and
all we have, and loving our neighbor as our self.
Jesus taught and lived the heart of God: self-giving love, for the purpose of
drawing us into close relationship with God, and for the sake of bringing about
God’s justice, peace, mercy and love to all people of every nation, of every
During this Season of Lent, I think it’s a good exercise for us to ask
How are we living as people of hope?
How are we proclaiming and living God’s justice, peace, mercy and love?
In what ways do we experience God’s presence and empowerment?
How are we loving unselfishly so that others may intersect with God through
My mind goes back to a scene I experienced years ago in Pennsylvania. The
scene includes as sunny day and a dear little girl about 3 years old, wearing a
colorful, flowing, Easter dress.
As other children rushed around picking up as many Easter Eggs filled with
candy as they could grab, this one little girl, picked up each egg, ever so gently,
one egg at a time, curiosily holding and examining each egg she found in the grass
before placing it in her basket.
After all the eggs in the church yard were gathered by the children, and
before taking out any of her new found candy to taste, this precious little girl ran
up to me with a smile of delight.
She took from her basket one of her few Easter Eggs and handed it to me. I
was awe-struck. I knelt down to see her eye-to- eye, and responded with a smile,
saying, “Thank you.” Then the little girl hugged me and trotted off to her Family.
That little girl displayed to me how I am to live: sharing unselfishly, loving
We are invited to live in hope, to proclaim and live God’s justice, peace,
mercy and love; to love unselfishly, and be a home for God, where others are
welcome to connect with the One who gave us Jesus to prove we are loved.