This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 7, 2021.
March 7, 2021
The Rev. Karen A. Calafat
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.
“Jesus went up to Jerusalem….” When we hear those words, it is a call to attention because when Jesus goes to Jerusalem, to the temple, something happens. Every time we hear about Jesus going to Jerusalem, something happens.
We believe Jesus is God incarnate – God with skin on – coming to earth to show us how to live and to assure us of God’s presence with us in the joys of life as well as in the sufferings of life.
I confess I read today’s gospel differently than I have in the past and that is because of our current context as Episcopalians in North Central Texas. As Bishop Mayer mentioned last week, we preach from a Revised Common Lectionary, meaning today’s readings were selected years ago. When I first looked at the readings this week, I wondered what Jesus’ anger in the temple had to say to us today as many of us face losing our church buildings. And I think I figured it out. Let’s begin by retracing the times Jesus went to Jerusalem.
As an infant, Jesus was dedicated in the temple by his parents. Much like we baptize infants in our parishes today. Jesus’ life was marked by worship in the temple – that place where people gathered for worship and communion with other believers.
With his family, Jesus’ went to Jerusalem every year for the festival of the Passover. It was a yearly discipline of preparation much like our yearly Lenten discipline is preparation for Easter.
You likely recall the story of the 12-year-old Jesus (about the age many of us go through confirmation classes) remaining in the temple after Passover had ended. His parents had begun the long journey back to Nazareth and not seeing Jesus, decided he must have been with a different group of travelers, perhaps in a pod of gangly teenage boys avoiding hanging out with their parents. When they were at the end of the day’s journey and still did not see Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem in search of him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. All who heard Jesus were amazed at his understanding and insight. Even his parents were astonished. That, however, did not protect Jesus from a little motherly consternation that was a mixture of complete relief at finding him okay and anger that he did not tell them where he was going and what he was doing. (You moms out there know exactly what I am talking about!)
Scripture tells us Jesus went back to Nazareth with his family and continued making the Passover journey to Jerusalem each year.
Early in his ministry, Jesus went to Jerusalem and something wonderful happened for a man who had not been able to walk for 38 years. There was a healing pool in Jerusalem where many blind, lame and paralyzed people hung out. This man had no one to help him get into the healing pool. Jesus simply spoke to him, asking him if he wanted to be healed and then said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk,” which the man did.
While this was a wonderful moment for the man who was healed, it was the beginning of the persecution Jesus would endure from the religious leaders of the day. They chastised Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath, on the day of rest. They were unfazed by the restoration of health to this man who had been lame for so long. They did not even seem curious about the power of compassion, healing, and restoration Jesus had. They were so caught up in applying the rules that they missed the very presence of the Messiah.
In the lesson in John’s Gospel today, we see Jesus again journeying to Jerusalem – and stirring up a different kind of healing, a different kind of transformation. The Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a holy experience for the faithful. They were to offer unto God the best of their livestock — clean and unblemished. Their worship included paying their temple tax, much like we give financial support to the church. Jesus was angry because the religious rulers turned this spiritual ritual into a competition — whoever could afford to buy the best, purest, cleanest livestock –would purportedly gain more benefit from their offering. It was not practical for the pilgrims to take their own livestock on the journey as feeding them and keeping them clean was impossible. Thus, the business developed of having markets for the pilgrims to shop before arriving at the temple. At first, these markets were a reasonable distance away from the temple, but as the notion of great profit caught on, they set up shop right inside the temple courtyard. This led to corruption, corruption which was particularly nasty in its ties to religion.
In addition to the marketplace there were moneychangers. The Jewish people paid a temple tax each year and had to pay with temple coins. Those traveling from great distances did not have the correct currency — they had to exchange their coins marked with Caesar or pagan inscriptions for those approved for temple use. Of course, the moneychangers charged a steep fee for the exchange.
Jesus was angered by the price gauging committed against worshippers in this holy place, in the temple that held sacred memories for Jesus, his family, and generations of God’s faithful people. These vendors were not participating in “temple cleansing,” but were defiling and contaminating these holy grounds.
After throwing the vendors off the temple grounds, Jesus refers to the destruction of the temple and its rebuilding in three days. This perplexes his hearers until three days after the crucifixion, at the resurrection, when their hindsight reminds them of Jesus’ words. Jesus was referring not to the temple building, but to himself as the temple of God.
In the later chapters of the Gospel of John, Jesus warns against restricting worship to any physical site for “God is spirit and truth” (4:24). Indeed, as the Gospel repeatedly states, the temple of Jesus’ body is now where the spirit and truth of God are found (17:21).
Jesus knew the importance of the temple as a place for faithful people to connect with each other, to share rites and rituals that were part of their tradition. Jesus grew up going to the temple and no doubt had formative and fond memories and connections to the building. Yet, Jesus witnessed the dangers of people becoming overly connected to a building and missing out on God’s glory standing right in front of them.
Thus, when people worry about the fate of the temple, Jesus re-centers our gaze. Rather than being consumed by a physical temple, or church building, we are called to set our sights on Jesus (John 12:9, 20), the Incarnate God, who walks this wilderness path to Jerusalem with us.
Because of this we worship in Spirit and truth wherever we may be. We see God’s glory and hold fast to God’s love made manifest in Christ—even when our plans are disrupted. We know, when Jesus shows up in Jerusalem, in our Jerusalem, something happens, something for our good and for God’s glory!