Sunday of Week 3 of Lent (Year B)

Commentary on Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25

The Gospel presents a dramatic scene where Jesus shows himself as Lord of the Temple. It does not seem in character to see Jesus with a small whip of cords physically driving out the traders in cattle, sheep and pigeons (animals to be used in sacrifices) and the money-changers. They were needed because only Jewish money could be offered in the Temple. Roman coins had the image of Divus Augustus (the ‘divine Augustus’) and so were regarded as idolatrous; they had to be exchanged for Jewish coinage.

Jesus objected not to the trade as such, which was quite legitimate, but to its being done in the Temple precincts, “my Father’s house”:

Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!

Such business should have been carried on just outside the Temple precincts, but we know that in our own time hawkers try to get as close to the action as possible, especially if they have competition. It is also not at all impossible that the Temple authorities connived at the practice and may even have benefited if the traders had to “rent” spaces in the Temple to do their business.

This would explain the priests’ anger at what Jesus was doing:

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

Jesus replies:

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

And the Temple Priests come back at him:

This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?

This was indeed true and, in fact, the building had not yet been fully completed at this time.

But Jesus was speaking about another sanctuary, another ‘Temple’ where God lived – his own body. Through this event we are reminded during Lent of what we are preparing to remember and celebrate – the death and resurrection of Jesus.

A hard saying
It is the very heart of our faith. But, as Paul explains, writing to the Christians of Corinth, Jesus’ death was:

…a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles…

It was a scandal, an insurmountable obstacle. It was impossible for them to accept that the Messiah, their Saviour and King, could suffer such an ignominious death at the hands, not only of Israel’s enemies, but even more, of his own people. That just could not be; God could not allow it.

To the Gentiles, the pagans, it was meaningless. Power and domination and influence were what counted in their world. The idea that someone executed like and with common criminals should be worshipped as Lord was nonsense. It was something to be ignored and laughed at and rubbished – as it still is by many in our own society today.

God’s wisdom
But to those who have been called and who answer the call – be they Jews or Gentiles, men or women, slave or free – it is the power and wisdom of God. The death of Jesus to any objective observer seems like utter failure, to believe in such a Lord seems stupid, but those with the eyes of faith can see the power of love in that death.

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