Here at the midpoint of the season of Lent, we gather to listen, reflect, remember, and re-interpret the stories from scripture that they might inform our own faith journeys as followers in the way of Jesus here and now.
This morning, our first story from the ancient texts remind us of how God responded to the needs of God’s people by giving them the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.
Our second reading this morning from John’s gospel provides another story of remembrance and re-interpretation as Jesus arrives into Jerusalem for the annual celebration of the feast of Passover.
In Jesus’ day, pilgrims made the annual trek to the Holy City of Jerusalem in remembrance and thanksgiving for all that God had done for their faith ancestors.
Because of this, Jerusalem would be teeming with thousands of pilgrims.
Like many of the texts in John’s gospel, this one is full of confusing and confounding messages, and competing voices.
However, it’s also richly symbolic and profoundly meaningful.
That said, it’s not exactly easy to figure out what’s happening and then to meaning to make of it.
In some ways, it’s felt helpful to me to imagine myself gazing at the text through the lens of one of those coloured kaleidoscopes-you know those toy gizmos you can get at the Dollar Store?
At the first turn of the kaleidoscope, we see Jesus’ body and hear his outraged voice as he challenges what he sees happening in the outer courtyard of King Herod’s temple at Jerusalem.
Jesus’ passionate overturning of the money changers’ tables and the driving out of the sheep and cattle from the Temple courtyard has got the worried disciples murmuring in a muddle of confusion.
Turning the kaleidoscope again, we see their faces and hear their voices whispering: Is Jesus the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy that one would come whose zeal for God’s house would consume him? (Psalm 69:9)?
Turning the kaleidoscope yet again, we see the faces and hear the voices of those simply known as ‘The Jews’.
Now it’s important to remember that the term “The Jews” in John’s gospel is not intended to single out a particular ethnic group, but, rather, to simply refer to those who reject Jesus.
Here, in this morning’s text, we see the faces and hear the voices question the authority of Jesus’ actions and his self disclosure as God’s Chosen Son.
Now the kaleidoscope has turned full circle and we see a new picture and we hear a new voice as Jesus responds to their demand for a sign of proof for his words and his actions.
Refusing to address the issue of his authority Jesus chooses instead to describe his own body as God’s Temple.
Further to that, he makes the outrageous prediction that his own body, God’s Temple will be destroyed only to be raised up again in 3 days.
Of course, while we, as listeners familiar with this story, recognize what’s happening. For those ones present at the scene or hearing the story for the first time it must have felt frightening and confusing.
As confusion and fear intermingle, we become aware of a not so subtle shift in the in the dynamics.
Skepticism gives way to misunderstanding, and bubbling hostility emerges.
In one last turn of the kaleidoscope, we see the narrator’s face and hear a voice reminding us that after Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus’ disciples remembered and believed.
Here in the second chapter of John’s gospel we discover that a good deal of what Jesus said and did during his life was only understood by his followers in hindsight, after the fact.
One take away nugget then for me is this:
If the very ones who dedicated their lives to Jesus needed hindsight to remember, understand, and interpret what was really going on, what does that mean for us listening to the text here and now?
How does what we recall, remember, and re-interpret from the text this morning intersect with and inform our own experiences and our own faith journeys up to now?
A second nugget I offer as a take away for your ongoing reflection this morning relates to the placement of this story in John’s gospel.
In the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection as found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this incident, this text about the ‘cleansing of the Temple’ takes place close to the end of Jesus’ trial and execution.
Not so in John’s gospel.
Though much biblical scholarship has ensued as regards the placement of this story early in John’s gospel, it continues to be unclear whether the synoptic gospels informed the author of the gospel of John or whether the gospel of John informed the synoptic gospels.
What is clear is this:
Here, in the shadow of the cross, we see and hear firsthand Jesus’ own prediction of what is yet to come.
And, it falls on ears that find it hard to comprehend.
For our purposes this morning, if we look back at the very beginning of the first chapter of John’s gospel, we find there the promise of the incarnation of God in Jesus.
In verse 14 of Chapter 1 we are told that “..the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (NRSV Harper Collins Study Bible, p. 2014)
Is it any wonder then that right here in the second chapter of John’s gospel we come into close contact with God incarnate, God made real through a rabble rousing, insurrectionist, anti-establishment Jesus?
Is it any wonder that early in John’s gospel we come face to face with God incarnate, God made known to us through Jesus’ embodiment of rage at who is able to access the outer court of the Temple in Jerusalem and who is not?
This morning’s story of Jesus’ dustup with the powers that be at the Temple provides us with the second of seven signs of Jesus’ divinity in John’s gospel, the first being his turning of water into wine at the wedding of Cana.
Following on from this morning’s story of Jesus referring to his own body as God’s temple, comes Jesus’ conversation about being born again with Nicodemus, who comes to him by night.
Symbolism, metaphor, drama, and mystery abound!
In fact, all through the gospel of John, we encounter the mystery of how God makes Godself known in and through Jesus and his relationships.
We have but to think of how Jesus’ responds to the woman at the well and her thirst for acceptance.
We have but to think of Jesus’ response to the sick man at the pool at Siloam on the Sabbath.
We have but to think of Jesus’ response to the five thousand in need of feeding on the mountaintop.
Further still, we have but to think of how Jesus, typically understood as cool and aloof in John’s gospel, also kneels and washes his friends’ feet on the night of his betrayal. (Preaching John, Robert Kysar, 2002)
These are but a few of the ways God incarnate in Jesus relates to humanity in the gospel according to John.
In so doing, as Jesus breaks all the rules of what is acceptable and, we, as faithful followers in the Way, we recall, we remember, and we re-interpret the facts.
We know full well that Jesus will pay a handsome price as his own body is betrayed and tortured for embodying the truth in love.
Stepping back from the text to look at the big picture, we could choose to interpret this morning’s reading from John’s gospel and ask:
Is our text today offering a read on Jesus’ passion for social justice and right relationship for those not able to access the Temple because of the Temple Tax?
Is the text on offer lifting up a story about the need to confront those who choose to turn a blind eye to local business folk making a profit as pilgrims make their way to worship at the Temple?
Is the text speaking to the need for a completer overhaul of worship practices?
From my own perspective, I feel compelled to reflect more deeply on how God makes God’s self known in and through Jesus in this text from John’s gospel.
I’m drawn to the good news of God incarnate here, in the text, especially as we reach the midpoint of our Lenten journey to the Cross leading to the new life in Christ that comes with Easter.
I’m drawn to the good news of God incarnate here and now as we anticipate taking part in the sacrament of communion this day.
For me, as we come to the liturgy of re-enacting the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before his death on the cross, I see and hear the good news and I take hope and am nourished in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of symbolic wine in community this morning with you.
I take hope in and am nourished by these signs and symbols of God attempting coming near to us as we attempt to come near to God.
In so doing, we become the body of Christ in this time and in this place.
In just the very same way, we’re also invited to continue to reflect on how it is that we incarnate the risen Christ in our various ministries of outreach and pastoral care and to share that good news with each other and all we encounter.
In the name of our stories from the ancient texts and in the name of the One who calls us to be the Church in this time and in this place and in the name of learning to love like Jesus, I pray that it may it be so. Amen and amen.
Rev. Elizabeth Bowyer reserves all rights © 2018.
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