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10th Sunday after Trinity
1 Corinthians xii. 1.
Luke xix. 41.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The 5 ½ verses of today’s Gospel are some of the more dramatic in scripture. In one breath Jesus goes from weeping to clearing out one of the courts of the Temple.  Jesus here is hardly the paragon of stability we normally think about.  This is also a picture of our Lord that is frequently forgotten today, as we often overemphasize Christ’s mercy above His justice. 

There is a temptation for us to quickly assess the scripture selection today if for no other reason than familiarity.  The epistle is certainly frequently cited – here we find what are later called Second Class Gifts of the Holy Ghost (as compared to the Gifts of the Holy Ghost in Isaiah 11:2-3).  They are also called the charismata – or “manifestations of the spirit.”  Charismatics take their name from their embrace of these gifts. 

The cleansing of the temple.  We have certainly all heard this gospel message before.  And we probably don’t need much help picturing it in our minds either – artists often have found inspiration in this dramatic event.  And why not?  Here is Jesus, the hero, lips snarled, swinging his knotted cord, overturning tables, giving those defilers a bit of what they deserve. 

Our familiarity however in some ways can be a great detriment when trying to gain meaning from Scripture.  We are tempted to find the simple, one reading of these two texts.  And yet the All-wise, All-knowing God cannot speak without meaning many things at once.  He sees the end from the beginning; he understands the numberless connections and relations of all things with one another.  This morning we see that Jesus weeps upon seeing Jerusalem.  The people cheer, but Jesus sees what has begun and how it will end.  He laments the destruction of the Temple before it takes place.  And though it is not often given to us to know these various senses of scripture, we are not at liberty to lightly imagine them.  It is well to keep this in mind when we read the Scripture; for it may hinder us from self-conceit, from studying in an arrogant and critical temper, and from giving over to reading it rather than contemplating it.

Luke’s Gospel, like Mark’s and Matthew’s, puts the “incident” at the Temple among Jesus’ final acts – just before the passion.  Indeed it is in the Synoptics that Jesus’ behavior in the Temple makes him such a marked man.  Jesus enters Jerusalem to the acclaim of the city, hailed as king to the words of the 118th Psalm.  The King of Peace enters the City of Peace to show the world what kingship really means.  Into this sequence the Synoptics squeeze the cleansing of the temple – we can see this in how quickly Luke deals with it (Jesus sees the temple, cleanses it, and is preaching the next day).  But for Luke the cleansing has to fit here; there just aren’t any other options.  After all Jesus is only in Jerusalem once in his adult ministry in the Synoptics.  So when the Evangelists were piecing together the stories of Jesus’ life it was logical that the cleansing of the temple should follow his triumphant entry.  But this does cause other problems.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem he occupies the attention of the entire city – which has always puzzled scholars.  There seems to be a missing link – at what point did Jesus become so famous?  This itinerant teacher from Galilee arrives in Jerusalem with throngs of followers – how did they know him?  

John’s gospel represents a different tradition with a different timeline and perhaps a solution to this problem.  John places this event near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  This discrepancy over order has prompted some thinkers to posit that there might have been two temple cleansings.   I’m not very receptive of this argument.  Getting away with this kind of thing once is believable, twice a bit incredulous – Romans as a rule tended not to appreciate disruptions to order.  John’s timeline provides us, however, with an answer to the missing link problem, and it is for this reason that it is more widely accepted by those of the historical-critical mindset.  The explanation looks a bit like this: Jesus takes His bold action, publicly excoriating the corruption at the Temple, in doing so he becomes a wanted man, prompting his necessary retreat to Galilee.  And when Jesus returns to Jerusalem to complete his ministry – his name is recognized, remembered, and restored in the minds of all as the great champion of the people. 

Placing this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry also mirrors themes we find throughout the Gospels.  Jesus inaugurates his ministry with the miracle at Cana, announcing in a way that the messianic age had begun, an age of feasting.  His very next act is to go to the Temple, where he assumes a right over His Father’s House, a Divine prerogative of the strongest kind.  The juxtaposition of these two events foreshadows the thematic tension of the Gospels – feasting and repentance, rejoicing in the presence of the Lord and preparing for the hour of visitation.

All the Gospels though are in concert regarding what happened in the Temple that day.  Jesus was very clearly focused on the money-changers.  Our modern sensibilities might have preferred other objects for Jesus’ ire.  “My house is the house of prayer;” in our current notions of what a house of prayer is, we might want Jesus to be offended by the noise, the presence of animals, the idle and profane chatter, or the atmosphere of irreverence.  But alas, Jesus is clear.  “You have made it a den of thieves.”

There is plenty of evidence, even outside of the Gospels, of the corruption of the money changers and the animal sellers.  We can imagine that the practice of changing money and providing sacrificial animals would have begun as a wholesome practice.  Every male Jew had to spend a certain portion of his income in Jerusalem and most pilgrim Jews would have arrived with foreign money.  Pilgrims would need clean animals for the priests to sacrifice for their sins, and one can imagine the difficulty presented by traveling from afar with an ox.  Eventually some enterprising fellow struck a deal with the priests, and for a small collusion he could sell his stock in the Court of the Gentiles.  It is interesting to note that Annas, the dreaded High Priest of the Gospels and Acts, is pronounced accursed in the Talmud for his avariciousness and defilement of the temple.  This could suggest that he may have mixed his priestly duties with his family business: selling sacrificial animals.  The money-changers in any case made a killing collecting an exchange fee and charging exorbitant prices for the animals.  This is what Jesus saw in the temple – this is what inflamed his anger: the abuse of money and trade.

Whenever we elevate commerce to religious heights or reduce God to an economic exchange, something horrible happens.  Holiness becomes the purview of the highest bidder, but worse, God becomes possessable.  Gone is the mystery, gone is the necessary morality, and gone is the accessibility.  The lesson may seem obvious – but how often we have to be reminded.  The Protestant Reformers certainly saw this same problem with the sale of indulgences – and used this event in the life of Christ to justify the necessary cleansing of the Church.

There is another key element.  Jesus comes to the Temple just prior to the Passover Festival – a time when everyone would have been coming to purchase their paschal lambs.  Jesus wept for Jerusalem because he could see its destruction – can we also see his righteous anger riled by his identification with the lambs?  Could it be that Jesus, the one, perfect sacrifice, who will be betrayed for “filthy lucre,” sees the sacrificial animals as innocents handed over to further puff up the purses of the unjust?  Jesus came to the Temple and found it hopelessly infected with the values and relations of the world and warned of its destruction.  He displayed by his action the remedy.  Is it any wonder that flagellation is so often the physical act associated with repentance?   

There is an irony here:  the temple is only truly the Temple when Jesus is there.  The Temple is the focal point of God’s covenantal relationship with man, the expression of God’s desire and the site of man’s aim.  This physicality means that Jesus is not fully accessible to all humans until after his death and resurrection.  Freed from his temporal state Christ then can establish a true Temple in every human through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.  St. Paul teaches us “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (I Cor 3:16)   God’s covenant with man is made even more intimate as he reaches out to us no longer from a locality, but from within each and every one of us.  Within St. Paul’s words we find the complete identification of our bodies with the Temple itself.  This is why we pray in the Prayer of Humble Access, “That our sinful bodies might be made clean by his body.”  We are inviting Christ physically into our temple; we are inviting the same scourging given to the money changers.  Once cleansed our covenant can be renewed – we can once again belong to God, which never had anything to do with the destruction of something external to us, as in animal sacrifice.  Belonging to God is a way of being.  It means emerging from our state of separation, our state of apparent autonomy, our state of existing only for oneself and in oneself.  Giving to God a true sacrifice – that is the sacrifice of love-transformed mankind, the divinization of creation, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians “God all in all” (I Cor 15:28).

St. Augustine opens his famous book The Confessions with a meditation.  He considers the paradox of searching after God.  The problem for St. Augustine is how we can make contact with a God who surpasses all understanding.  How can I know what I cannot understand?  He writes, “Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee? and, again, to know Thee or to call on Thee?  For who can call on Thee not knowing Thee?”  In other words – how can I seek God, if he had not first come to me?  Given that most of us aren’t provided some beatific vision to welcome us into a religious life, how can I ever know of God, let alone call on Him.  St. Paul clears up this paradox for us in today’s epistle: “that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” 

It is God who takes the necessary first step.  Through Baptism we are cleansed to make room for the Holy Ghost, who will teach us and prompt us to yearn for God.  Being imperfect, we will fall.  We will fail.  We will forget.  We will do any number of things disrespectful to Him who has bought our bodies for a price.  But all is not lost. “If ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. viii. 13).  We must “put to death what is earthly” in us (Colossians 3:5); we must allow the living Christ to chase out our own perversions of God’s intent for us.

Brothers and sisters, let us work together with God in this work of our redemption, for we are meant to be a strength for one another.  While “the manifestation of the spirit is granted to every man to profit withal…but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit.”  Through the same Spirit we are one body.  What a wonderful manifestation of unity in diversity, that out of the one sacrifice, one Spirit is given; and out of the one Spirit come many gifts; and together our many gifts form one body, one temple.  May the good Lord preserve and keep our individual and corporate Temples free from defilement, that we might praise him not only with our lips but also with our lives. 

Let us pray:
“O Lord, narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that thou mayest enter in.  It is ruinous; repair Thou it.  It has that within which must offend Thine eyes; I confess and know it.  But who shall cleanse it? Or TO whom should I cry save Thee?  Lord cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy... For if Thou, Lord, shouldest mark our iniquities, O lord who shall abide it?” (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book I)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.


Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. Eng. Trans.  New York. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortres, 1975, 134.

 

Stephen Rugg

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