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Jesus and the Temple

THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO JOHNThe 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. JOHN 2:13-22

Sermon: The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor

One of my traditions during Holy Week is to watch Andrew Llyod Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. As you saw from the clip, I don’t watch the weird version that came out in the 70s, where a bunch of hippies gather in the desert to tell the Jesus narrative. Instead, the one I watch came out in 2000 and has been modernised. The temple scene is filled with sex, drugs, weapons, money, gambling all to the extreme. It is meant to symbolise the epitome of sinfulness, sloth, lust as we might imagine it today. And in the middle of it all Jesus appears. In contrast to the temple, which is colourful, with reds, blues, purples, flashing lights, glitter, sequins…Jesus is simply dressed in white. Andrew Lloyd Webber has characterised Jesus as the opposite of what fills the temple by both his clothing and his words, he sings out in high tones in contrast to the lower tones being sung by the crowd, calling everyone to get out of the holy space. Thus, in this scene, Andrew Lloyd Webber shows how Jesus stands against the corruption in the Temple.

When we hear today’s Gospel, we might imagine it to look something like what Andrew Lloyd Webber has portrayed, and the meaning of the passage, as in the musical, becomes focused on Jesus’ stand against corruption. The ancient Jewish temple was a place where one bought animals for sacrifice and money changers were present, because people came from all over the Empire to pay their tithes. As these necessary activities took place, of course, some were abusing the system…ripping people off by increasing prices or shortchanging them. It was not to the extreme depicted in the musical, but there was corruption present…and Jesus’ act in the Temple does speak against, overthrow, this corruption.

While this is one of the passage’s meanings, there are others and I think they are more useful for us. We just heard the scene as depicted in John’s Gospel and unlike the other Gospels, Jesus says that what he does symbolises how the temple will be destroyed and raised in three days. Those present are confused, thinking that he is speaking about the physical temple, but Jesus is speaking about his body. The act of overturning the tables, casting people out, is a symbolic act to speak of the destruction of Jesus’ body, which he says will be rebuilt, raised up in three days.

In the ancient world and even today, we think of our holy buildings, churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, as places where we come closer to the divine. This is the case with the Temple in John. But John suggests that Jesus’ symbolic act and his words show how Jesus is to be understood as the new holy space, that God comes close to humanity within his fragile, broken body. One scholar states that we “see [Jesus’ body] beaten, crucified, taken down from the cross, and laid in a tomb. And in the stories of his resurrection, he is still a body — huggable, touchable, scarred, and eating.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ body, broken, scarred, human, is the new temple, because it is where God resides, where God comes to and touches humanity.

If we look past the action in today’s Gospel, past the overturning of tables, noise, lights, glitter that distract us…if we focus on what Jesus says we discover an important message. God doesn’t meet us only in the special, thin places, in the beauty of stained glass or the sanctity of sacrament, but God meets us in the brokenness of our physical selves. While our bodies decay and succumb to illness and disease, while they cause us so every part of who we are. Nothing about us is separated from the love of God. I like what one scholar writes about this, she says, “God was committed enough to human flesh and blood to become it in Jesus Christ, and committed enough to human flesh and blood to raise Jesus up after his death, as a body able to eat fish, and point out scars to Thomas, and ask Peter to feed his sheep.” God is committed to us in all our brokenness, be it physical, mental, spiritual, emotional. God loves us exactly as we are and God brings resurrection and healing to every piece of our fragile selves. And this one of the truths we are called to remember during Lent…that at the heart of the Jesus narrative, there is a body, filled with God, broken and raised. This is our reality too, God meets us here, now, in every struggle of what it means to be human, in every pain, sorrow, grief, God is here, God loves us, God resurrects us.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has captured one of the meanings of today’s Gospel in his musical…yes, Jesus is standing against corruption in the temple. But in John’s Gospel there is more going on, a deeper message found through Jesus’ words. Jesus is the new temple, a place where God meets us in a broken body, huggable, touchable, scarred, and eating. So when our bodies fail, when they hurt, decay, fall apart, God remains with us, God loves us. Our bodies, our broken selves, are places where God meets us, where God brings us life and resurrection. As we go through Lent remember this, we are blessed and holy just as we are, nothing, not even our frail mortal selves, can separate us from God. Amen.

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