Note: The sermon was delivered for 3rd Sunday of Lent on March 4, 2018.
Readings: Ex. 20.1-17; Ps. 19; 1 Cor. 1.22-25; Jn. 2.13-25
Jesus went up to Jerusalem since the Passover of the Jews was near. At the Jerusalem temple area, he expelled all those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves as well as the money changers from the temple.
Jesus proclaimed, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” After that people came to Jesus and demanded a sign for saying that. Jesus said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
What is significant is that this narrative does not only appear in the Gospel of John but occurs in all four gospels. There might be problems such as the temporal arrangement or the accuracy of the event at that time, but they all raise a common question.
It was officially allowed to sell pure animals to be sacrificed in the temple. It is likely that the money changer was allowed to do business by the high priest. In other words, the people Jesus drove out of the temple were not the ones who did the illegal activity, but the ones allowed to do their work within legal boundaries or the custom. We might feel abashed at Jesus’ action which cast those who were working with permission out of the temple.
Did Jesus not know about the custom? Of course, he did not! But he also knew that it was the priests and temple guards who acquired a great number of profits from the consumers and marketers. They were, in fact, the biggest beneficiaries in the temple market.
As an example, the price of a dove sold in the temple is more than five times higher compared to doves sold outside the temple. Moreover, a dove traded outside the temple was often not selected as a pure animal to be sacrificed due to the strict policies of the temple.
So, the incident of the cleansing of the Temple publicly revealed and disclosed the things hidden inside of it rather than the act of buying and selling itself. What was apparent on the surface was a reasonable religious act, but what was hidden in it was corruption and greed. No matter how wonderfully and beautifully wrapped up with religious practices, if the contents in it are not wholly belonging to God, then these religious acts have lost its essence.
Taking a deeper look at this question, we would realize that this situation could also apply to ourselves as well because each of our bodies is a temple where God dwells. From the old days, the temple refers to the place where God dwells. If we say that the place where God is present is a temple, each of our bodies which is experiencing the presence of God through faith should also be a temple.
But if we are wrapping ourselves with religious practices and being filled with things which are not belonging to the mind of God, how can we call it a temple of God? Although we read the Bible numerous times and spend most of our time on praying, there is no clear distinction between our daily lives and those without faith, how can we call it a temple of God?
We pray with our mouth, mind, and thoughts but it should be visible in our actions. The completion of prayer leads to action, so I personally think that prayer starts from the heart and ends in our actions. Not just prayer, but also all our faith practices are alike. Our physical bodies come to worship, but if our souls and hearts are not truly contemplating the love of God, there is nothing as sad as that. The mind is somewhere else and only the shell of the body remains.
So, the God of love gave Israelite the Ten Commandments, but they were more interested in tasting the honey from the comb rather than keeping the commands of God.
If we fix our attention only to the miracles and wisdom of the Lord rather than the decree of the Lord, we seem not to be ready keeping the precepts of the Lord which is sweeter than syrup. We can see how many Israelites made mistakes against the law of the Lord through the Hebrew Bible. It is noteworthy that the Ten Commandments is not commands for others, but it is a decree which should be kept by myself.
Before trying to make others change, I, myself, should first turn into a person who keeps the God’s commands which enlightening the eye.
Is not that person really the temple of God?
The law of the Lord is perfect, trustworthy, true, and they are more precious than gold and sweeter than syrup. BUT if the command of the Lord is not revealed through our bodies which are called the temple of God, we might not know how sweet the law of God is.
It might be someone who lost his or her Christian’s identity. That’s what Jesus was dedicated to purifying. We are called to show the power and wisdom of God in our daily lives. They will shine more when we take care of weakness of others than our greed.
Proclaiming Christ crucified is to actively choose a foolish life. In the eyes of the world, such a life might be ridiculous. BUT those who have decided to live such a life are “HOLY FOOLS.”
God is healing the world through the “HOLY FOOLS.” They might be the sword utilized by God to cut off a heart such as a callus. Or it might be the sound of heavenly songs that subdue the storm of our desires.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Cor. 25)
The cross we are proud of is neither an amulet nor a sign of salvation. It is a lifestyle we have to choose. The cross means death. Believing in God is crucifying our old self with Christ and being born again as a new being. All our inner beings should be a temple in which God is present. Jesus directly speaks to us, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
Business is an economic activity that creates profits. It is not saying that it is wrong, but the problem is that sort of economic activities is corrupt when it turns into self-centeredness.
The house of God is a place of abundant love, genuine serving, and true fellowship. It is filled with hearts which can embrace all people. It is the house of God that tries to find the image of God within us and seek to reveal it through our lives, our practice of faith.
The house of God starts with our own change. So, we should pray for transformations of our lives instead of praying for changing other’s habits and words. We should start purifying ourselves first. Is not there an attribute of the temple that Jesus came to destroy? We cry out for God’s presence, but is not our life pursuing something different from it? Where is the center of our lives is heading for?
Jesus came to destroy such a temple. If we strive to walk along with the law, decree, precepts, command of the Lord We will see the fruits in our lives.
The Lord is coming.
Our Lord is coming to cleanse and restore us.
Through our Lord, I pray that our lives will be restored as the temple of God during this time of Lent.
Woori Han, PhD student in Homiletics
Graduate Theological Union, Berkley, California