Sacred or Profane?

Twice this gospel mentions the Passover—that event in Jewish history that marks Israel’s passage from slavery to freedom. This is the founding, saving event that the Jewish people celebrate each year. Those who could came to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Jesus is there. On the feast. He goes to the temple. And becomes enraged. This is not a picture of Jesus we usually see. Something awfully important had to have been at stake.

fold-63623_640The temple in Jerusalem was a sign to the Jews of God’s Presence and saving works. This sign could be corrupted, however, by human beings who turn away from the temple’s true purpose. Enraged, Jesus takes “a whip” and drives out of the temple area those who corrupt the sign. Then Jesus announces both a new temple (his own body) that could not be corrupted and a new sign (“raised from the dead”) that would draw those who come to believe in him to a whole new reality. Even though the new temple of Jesus’ body would be destroyed by death, in the end it was not. This temple would be an eternal sign of God’s Presence and saving works and those who wish to share in Jesus’ Life cannot lose sight of this sign.

God’s Presence and saving works are not found in bricks and mortar,but in the risen Body of Christ. Now we are the new temple: the living sign of the new things God is doing for us. This living sign is no longer a place (a bricks and mortar temple), but a relationship of fidelity to a new temple (the risen Jesus).

The simple call of the gospel is to see the living signs of God’s Presence in our midst. Unlike the signs the Jews asked to see in the gospel—signs which would justify Jesus’ extraordinary action in the temple—we are to ask and look for different signs, ones which draw us into the deepest reality of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus showed us the signs so clearly: he was crucified and then raised up. Just as surely as God raised up Jesus from the dead, so will we be raised up. The signs are there for us to see and believe. Oh, the jealousy and fidelity of the Divine! Yes, God can be trusted with our very lives.

Most of us get lost in the demands of our everyday living. We get up in the morning, spend our day working, prepare and clean up after meals, shop and clean, drive the kids to soccer practice, worry about them, and do countless other things before we fall into bed at the end of the day—usually totally exhausted. In the midst of all this it is pretty difficult to be single-minded about anything except the tasks at hand. This gospel strikingly challenges us to keep doing all these everyday tasks—but for the right reason: to continue to be living signs of Jesus’ risen Presence within and among us.

Ultimately, we are to offer up the temple of our own bodies by dying to self and only in this way can we share in the new Life God offers us. This is our daily dying: not necessarily doing something different, but doing what is demanded of us out of love for God and the good of others. This is our daily rising: that we have kept our sight on God, have conformed ourselves more perfectly to Christ, and have believed the signs of God’s Presence to us.

Cleansing the Temple

Is faith in God reasonable? What reasons do people have for faith? How do acts of scandal detract from faith?

Each time and each culture has its reasons to believe. In the past, philosophers asserted God’s existence and reasonable nature of faith. Today, psychologists propose faith as a means to mental health and personal fulfillment. We Christians want faith to fit into life, answers our questions, and give us comfort, assurance, strength . . .But what happens when faith causes scandal? How do people react when people of faith commit unreasonable acts? On a typical day during business hours, Jesus overturned a marketplace in a very unreasonable manner. And through his rage, he revealed himself as the Messiah.

This Sunday we turn to an incident in John’s gospel that revealed Jesus as the Messiah: the cleansing of the Temple. This violent act led to a prediction of his Passion and Resurrection. And a statement that Jesus did not trust his contemporaries.

What a mess Jesus made! He spilled coins, overturned tables and even destroyed the temple as God’s dwelling place. He declared that the place of God’s presence among the people was no longer a building but the temple of his body.

“Temple” to “the house of my Father” to “body.” These were all titles for the dwelling place of God on earth. These were titles for Christ’s body. These were all titles for the Christian community. The common thread throughout this changing set of terms was the Christian community in relation to its Master. Through the Risen Christ, God dwelt in the community.

Through Christ, God is making a new creation in us. Our relationship with God is measured by how well we pattern our lives after Jesus in dying to ourselves for the good of others. New, risen life is ours when we destroy structures of prejudice, self-righteousness,, selfishness, materialism, arrogance, social and economic status. Like Christ we become living signs of God’s love and fidelity.

Faith will always cause scandal. Do we waver in the face of scandal? Or, do we redouble our efforts in faith? In the end, a faith that survives scandal is the toughest faith of all.