Today we’re reflecting on John’s account of the “cleansing the Temple.” It’s a story we all know. The four evangelists each relate the incident. There are, however, differences among the accounts. Matthew and Luke situate the event on the day of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. Mark places it on the day after, Monday.
In each account the incident takes place in the area of the Temple called the Court of the Gentiles. Even though Israel was deeply committed to racial and religious purity, the Temple retained an area where nonJews were permitted to pray. This was to fulfill God’s command: “My house shall be call a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7)”
But the religious leaders had allowed the Court of the Gentiles to deteriorate into a religious marketplace. There, the specially inspected animals that were officially approved for sacrificial offerings were sold to pilgrims. It was also the place to exchange Roman currency into the Temple shekel. The use of secular currency was forbidden in the temple, and only the Temple shekel was permitted to pay the yearly Temple tax, or to make donations to the Temple.
The four evangelists agree in interpreting the event as an introduction to a new era. By cleansing the Court of the Gentiles Jesus was performing a prophetic action that clearly proclaimed that the doors of his Father’s house are open to everyone. No religion or people would have a monopoly on God any longer.
This is stressed even more dramatically in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke when they report that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain separating the courts of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, considered God’s dwelling place on earth, is torn open. At that moment heaven opens its welcoming arms to all people without exception.
John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple adds an additional, and very important, insight to the event. The chief priests demand that Jesus give them a sign from God that would legitimate his prophetic action. He speaks another prophecy to answer them. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Totally misunderstanding his message, they mock him. “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” John tells us that Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body. He was telling them that they would, indeed, destroy him, but that he would ultimately triumph. He would resurrect three days later. J
John is also telling us that in the new time, Jesus replaces the Temple. As God and man, heaven and earth unite in him. As the new Adam, everyone who is reborn through him is a child of God. Praying through him and with him, each of us has direct access to our heavenly Father.
As we journey through this Lent we’re continually taught by God’s word. This account of the cleansing of the temple not only gives us an insight into the person of Jesus and his divine mission, but it suggests something very personal to each of us. We’re God’s temple, too. Every once in a while we need to heed Jesus’ example and clean house. We need to rid our hearts of everything we’ve accumulated that disturbs the silence of our temple. The merchants and the moneychangers in the Temple were supposed to assist in the preparation for worship. But, in reality, they were a barrier that disrupted the flow of prayer.
Sometimes our prayer life can be like that. Sometimes we might introduce so much extraneous stuff that there’s no more space in the inner room of our hearts for God. Sometimes we may clutter our hearts with too many “prayers.” We end up unable to have an intimate, wordless dialogue with God. Sometimes we might get so stuck with the correctness of our spiritual rituals as to ignore their purpose – to open the door to our hearts.
Think about this account – the cleansing of the Temple. What in your spiritual temple needs cleansing? Invite Jesus into you heart. Ask him to free your heart so that God may enter and dwell there. Sit quietly and wordlessly. Give Jesus permission to cleanse your heart.