Trouble in the Temple?

Scriptures: John 2:13-21 and 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

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Let us pray:

Illumine these texts for us, O God, and may your Holy Spirit breathe among us true understanding. In Christ we pray, Amen.

         I have chosen to shift away from Matthew’s gospel one week early, giving us a full five weeks for Lenten reflection on what some scholars refer to as the Book of Signs embedded in the Gospel of John. Palm Sunday, April 5th, we will return to Matthew’s gospel for the passion of Holy Week.

For our first week in John’s gospel, we examine the tail end of chapter two. In context, just prior to today’s text, Jesus has performed the first of his Seven Signs at the wedding in Cana. Tension builds as to what this miracle might mean. The author of John then does something extraordinary. He introduces Jesus’ public ministry with the story of the cleansing of the Temple. This story is associated in the earlier gospels with touching off the crucifixion narrative.[1] Here, it is placed directly before Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, here in the second chapter of John! What is the reason for this? Perhaps it may be found in unpacking the different layers of meaning common to the Gospel of John.

I have already mentioned this gospel can be interpreted as a “signs” gospel. This means the lens by which we read it is not so much with the eyes of historical chronology. Instead it is to be read with a more contemplative mindset to tease out interpretive meanings specifically designed to engender our spiritual growth.

But it is more than just the seven signs that Jesus performs which we might identify as miracles. These and other events are signs for deeper meanings; part of which teaches us who Jesus is. Other parts teach us who we are. Locations of these events have deeper meanings, even, and if we are to go as far as commentator John Shelby Spong, even some of the characters inserted in this account are symbolic characters meant for readers to understand more what they represent for our journey of faith than the actual validity of their factual existence.

“In John’s cleansing of the Temple episode, Jesus is made to identify his body with the Temple. ‘Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up’ (John 2:19) he says.”[2] Viewing this episode through the eyes of the mystics, John’s gospel shows us something of the broader journey of faith. Farther along than we might have been before, or at least further along than we might be comfortable with, we begin to see a glimmer of something unexpected.

Ultimately, when addressing our journey of faith objectively, it points to an uncomfortable shift. Namely, the limits of this world, with its literal mind-set, are being challenged by the Johannine Community’s interpretation of Jesus in an effort to grow its adherents spiritually into a new spiritual consciousness. More simply put, John wants to show us that the old way of doing faith, which Jesus challenges, must be supplanted by the new, to which Jesus points.

I’d like to dwell here in the murky illumination of our first century text for a moment. What I just alluded to may be a challenging branch of theological inquiry for some. It hints that spiritual growth happens on a continuum that moves away from fundamentalist literalism toward an open process of mutuality shared by both humanity and divinity. In the midst of first century Palestine, this passage depicting a cleansing in the Temple is nothing less than the first step toward more serious “trouble in the temple,” if you will, marking one point along an evolution of faith. In this case, Jewish followers of Christ have been ejected from membership of established traditional synagogues because of their journey into Jewish Christianity. The Johannine community was thus formed and established as a specific Christian community, by necessity separated from Judaism.

What I’d like to do is speculate here for a moment. If we were to take the parable of Jesus and apply it to ourselves today, drawing a parallel with our contemporary Christianity, what would that look like and mean? Suppose, for just a moment, that we are in a repeating historical moment. That would mean, in the Christian journey of faith, we would represent the traditional expressions of spiritual community. Jesus would be teaching us that our way is the old way of doing faith, challenging it with opportunities for a new way that is even already unfolding before us.

I am reminded of Brian Heron’s blog I shared last week during our Minute for Mission. The future of our Church – or perhaps of Christianity itself – has its seeds in the immediate now. Now being the time of foment among the faiths; now being the time of salvation, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians; now being a time of new beginnings. What an incredible opportunity! O Lord, open our eyes that we may see, open our ears that we may hear!

Let us pray: O Lord, guide us into your paths of everlasting, into your service of mercy and grace, into your outpouring of love for the world. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] John Shelby Spong, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2013) 85.

[2] Ibid.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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