In our Gospel passage (John 2:13-22) we have the cleansing of the temple and Jesus speaking of the destruction of the physical Temple, or destruction of his body, or of both. Everything is turned upside down.
This picture of the ‘righteous anger’ Jesus is a different picture from the gentle Jesus who said “Let the little children come unto me”. In the gospel today, Jesus adopts a shocking posture, action, and words towards those who focus on the things of this world and ignore the God who is spirit and truth and love.
Passover in Jerusalem was a nationalistic festival, like the Fourth of July, as well as a religious festival. It was a combustible mixture, with the Jews remembering their escape from slavery in Egypt, but now they were occupied by Rome. There was an electric scene of confrontation. The Roman forces were looking down upon this scene from the overlooking watchtower, the Fortress Antonia. They could literally see Jesus’ face. “Do not make a marketplace out of my Father’s house.” That is the cry of Jesus in this gospel passage, as he plaited together a whip and then used it almost like a weapon, or at least a tool. We know very well that it is a dangerous thing to take out a weapon in the presence of armed police or soldiers. “Do not make a marketplace out of my Father’s house.” The people there in the Temple that day were within a heartbeat of a forceful, violent response by the Romans.
Little wonder then, that in the Gospel of Mark, Luke, and Matthew, this cry of Jesus, and his action of the cleansing of the Temple led directly to the crucifixion of Jesus.
Today, March 8, is the 98th anniversary of the February Revolution in Russia, which changed the course of history during the 20th Century. Yesterday, March 7th, was the anniversary of the Selma march for civil rights. There have been revolutions in France, in Spain, in Italy, in the United States, in Iran, in the English Reforms of 1834, and in many other places. In each case, the people could take no more. They were going to die anyway, so they might as well die standing up as die kneeling in misery.
This links to our reading today from the Hebrew Scriptures, Exodus 20:1-17 – the Ten Commandments, given at the time of Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt. The last Commandment is that we should not covet.
Later on, St Paul took this covetousness to be the overarching human problem: that we humans tend to be grasping. Whatever we have is never enough, we always want more. We want, we covet a car like theirs, we want a house like theirs, we want to be acknowledged, or we want their husband or wife. Those who have are insatiable, and keep demanding and getting more; those who have not keep losing the little they have. Inevitably the social situation explodes once more as it has done hundreds of times in history in every place. Or, at the personal level, when we cling so much to the material alone, our own lives suffer something comparable.
Thirty years or thirty five years after this scene in our gospel reading, that Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, burned, and dismantled by a huge military force, a military force made up of four legions of the Roman Empire. To give you an idea of the military force involved: four Roman legions were sent to destroy Jerusalem and its Temple; while it took eight Roman legions from Julius Caesar to subdue Britain.
When Jesus cried out, “Do not make a marketplace out of my Father’s house”, he was not referring only to that ancient and very impressive stone Temple of Herod. After all, in John chapter 4 he said that those who worshiped God would not worship in Jerusalem, but “in Spirit and in truth”. At one level God can be through the stars (Ps 19); at another level known through the written word of the scriptures; at another, known through the living Word, Jesus Christ; and finally, known by living in our own hearts.
In John 3 Jesus said God loved the world. In one sense, the whole world is the house of God. Jesus cried out, “Do not make a marketplace out of the world”, consuming everything that there is and leaving disaster in our wake. Rather, look at the first of the commandments—not to covet, but rather, to love and worship God with our whole heart.
Again, when Jesus cried out, “Do not make a marketplace out of my Father’s house”, he was referring to that much more important place which is God’s house, namely, the human heart, in which the spirit resides. He cried out that we should not make our whole hearts full of consumer affairs: but rather learn to care for other people, to share what we have.
If our hearts are the house of God, then the cry of Jesus is that we should not make a marketplace out of our hearts, because our hearts are the place in which God lives.
A market is a place of exchange. It is a place in which there is nothing for nothing, a place in which everything has a price, a place in which there is very little for a dime. The world constantly urges us to exploit everything, monetize everything, and make a profit on everything. I see some of this in John Grisham’s books. It makes for a very ugly world. Jesus turns all that upside down, and cries out, “Do not make a marketplace” of your heart. God lives in your heart.
Jesus gave his heart and his life to us, who cannot repay him, in love, and without charge. As we absorb the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17), we know we have a mountain of scarlet sins that God forgives and forgets… as we forgive one another a molehill of wrongs. There is a wisdom in the cross which is wiser than the philosophies of the world (1 Cor 1:18-25).
Last week we read that one of the marks of discipleship is that we want to follow Jesus. Let us not make of God’s house a market place. As we follow Jesus, let us like Jesus also be different from the world around us: let us give our heart and our life to God and to other people–and the creation itself, having mercy upon them, who cannot repay us, in love and without charge. That makes for a very beautiful world.
Sunday March 8 2015: Lent 3B/ Trinity Episcopal Church, Whitinsville & St John’s Episcopal