Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jesus, The Tabernacle For His People. Homily for John 2:13-25. Lent #3

3rd Sunday of LENT
Homily for 3.11.12
John 2:13-25
Year B 





Today, as we continue to work through our Lenten journey, it is important to ask ourselves if we are making a "good" Lent?

We must ask if we are sincerely looking to our own spiritual house, seeking the LORD through Godly repentance, and we must ask if we are doing the actions that make for a "good" Lent -- self-denial, simplicity of life and sharing with the poor?

Further, we must also ask in the light of Lent: Are we earnest in our liturgical practices? Are we clean temples for the continuing indwelling presence of the HOLY Spirit? And, are we willing to truly follow the ways of the Christ, without pretense or guile?

But, with these questions in mind, at first thought it might seem strange that the Lectionary would offer this particular Gospel reading during the Lenten Season. How does John's version of Jesus cleansing the temple have anything to do with Godly repentance, self-denial, simplicity of life, sharing with the poor, our liturgical practices and the presence and activity of the HOLY Spirit?

Instead, we have a text where Jesus is quite literally blowing-up the temple system, if only for a moment, showing it as corrupt and barren to its purpose. Interestingly, John has Jesus making this important gesture at the beginning of his ministry, while the synoptics have him doing it at the end. That is, we see the Evangelists shape their respective documents, meaning for the synoptics the cleansing of the temple becomes the trigger of the cross, but for John that trigger was the raising of Lazarus.

Anyway, John tells us that Jesus:
"...made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, 'Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace.'"
Which seems all the more out of place to the one who is meek and mild and lowly of heart. So that, John's explanation:
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
seems fairly hollow. 

Of course, I don't mean to criticize the apostle, far from it. And, who am I to do that anyway? I only mean to say that there is much more going on here than simply Jesus' zeal for temple purity -- which is still an important theme, and one we will return to at the end.

Instead, what I want us to see, initially, is that the cleansing of the temple is a highly symbolic act that actually has little to do with its commercialization and everything to do with its representation as the location of the Hebrews worship.

The temple was to be the place where GOD would dwell with his people. Hence the phrase, "My Father's House," and as such it was to be reserved for those moments when the Almighty’s temple presence would allow a meeting with his chosen people through the liturgical and cultic sacrificial system.

But notice, the temple had become something else; it had become a location of authority and control. It had devolved into the seat of exclusion -- the ceremonial sinful are shut out, and the locus of privilege -- where the rich and powerful become more rich and more powerful.

N.T. Wright tells us that in that moment when Jesus overturns the tables and lets loose the animals suddenly the sacrificial process ceased, if only few minutes. So this symbolic action carries the message: The temple is under GOD's judgment. But Jesus' actions were also apocalyptic: The temple purpose is prophetically shifting to Jesus, would be the new location of GOD's meeting with humanity.

Think about what is in view in this way. Earlier in the fourth gospel, John tells us:
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
Of course this is a very famous text, but what might not be so well known is that the Greek word here translated "lived among us" is the word ἐσκήνωσεν (eskēnōsen) which, according to Robertson's Word Pictures, can also literally translated, "to pitch ones tent, or to be tabernacled." Robertson goes on to say that: ἐσκήνωσεν is "God's Shekinah glory here among us in the person of his Son." (vol.5 pg.13)

Again, quoting Dr. Wright:
“Already in the Prologue...John has declared that the Word became flesh and tabernacled in our midst; he pitched his tent, came to dwell among us as in the Temple; and, in case there were any doubt, John says ‘and we beheld his glory’. The return of God’s glory to dwell in the midst of his people was the great, unrealized hope of the last four hundred years before the time of Jesus; the Jewish people had come back from exile, but God’s glory, the Shekinah, had not returned. The later prophets insisted that God would come back, but nobody ever claimed it had happened. And this was the more to be regretted, because the Old Testament, in a wide variety of ways, had indicated that the Temple, and the presence of the living God within it, was to be the sign and the means of God’s filling not just a building but the whole earth with his glory.”
Here it is. The same divine presence of GOD that once dwelt among the Hebrews in the pillar of cloud and fire and in the Holy of Holies is now present in the person of Word-made-flesh, who has pitched his tent among us. This means what the temple could only partially do because of human fallenness, the Word-made-flesh has done completely because of his sufficiency as Messiah.

Remember, we spoke in this same direction a couple weeks ago when we described Jesus as both healing and forgiving the sins of the paralytic who was lowered through his roof. In part, the significance of this moment was to tell those scribes watching that the replacement for the temple was present, for what Jesus did for the paralytic was actually temple property, to be performed there and there alone by the priests.

OK, this is all very interesting, of course, but just what does this mean to me, and how does this impact my Lenten journey, which is how we walked through the door of this homily.

In response, I would offer several questions of my own:

FIRST:
If Jesus moved against the inadequate (re: corrupt) liturgical practices of his own day, one wonders how he views our practices today?
Should we presume ourselves better than those ancient Hebrews just because of the presence of Messiah, King Jesus? Or does his ever-present-ness through the power of the HOLY Spirit bring to us an increased responsibility to worship in truth and purity? Asked differently, are we concentrating on the words and acts of the liturgy? Do we bring to our liturgical practices like this morning’s worship a mind focused and a heart opened?
SECOND:
If our bodies are now, through the Christ, the dwelling place of the HOLY Spirit...
[Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)]
then what are we doing with our life in the body that is this great gift from GOD.
As those claiming allegiance to the ways of the Christ, we are not our own to do what we want, and specifically our bodies are not our own. Which means, in reality, we are to glorify the one who bought us with the rare and precious price which was his own body, with our present life in the body. The question is, is this our consistent practice?
THIRD:
If, as today’s text reminds us that, the living Christ well understands the reality of human nature:
"Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well."
then what is it exactly that Jesus sees within us, within our human nature?
Does he see the brokenness and corruption? Of course. Does he see the death of dreams? Of course. Does he see the grief of loss? Of course. And finally, does he see the ongoing struggle with personal sinfulness and the more troubling cultural captivity? Of course. But, we might also ask: Does he see our sorrow for sin? Of course. Does he see are dearest desire to follow the him with our life? Or course. And does he see our final willingness to forsake all else to follow his ways? Of course.
FINALLY:
If today’s text brings to the front the reality of Messiah Jesus’ claim to life over death and hope over despair:
“Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.”
then do we have a depth of discipleship to daily turn from our own brokenness and corruption to the renewal of life offered in the Christ?
Are we willing to daily turn to this life-giving offer found in the authenticity of the word-made-flesh who dwells among us and in us? Are we willing to -- and this is the Lenten moment before us -- offer daily repentance to GOD as we seek his will and presence in prayer and in the faces of the poor?
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JOHN 2:13-25
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
"What sign can you show us for doing this?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews said,
"This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?"
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.