Sunday, March 4, 2018

destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The cleansing of the Temple, our gospel reading today, is an important incident in the life of our Lord – so important that all four of the gospels have an account of it, something that, the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection aside, is a rare enough occurrence. It is not surprising that all four evangelists include it: in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who place the episode near the end of Jesus' ministry, it is the 'last straw' if you like that 'breaks the camel's back and spurs the religious authorities to conspire together to bring about his death; and in John, who places the incident near the beginning of his narrative, there are also allusions to not only his death but the conspiracy that will bring it about, for in it he speaks of his death and resurrection after three days, and the way he phrases that prophetic utterance, that if they destroy this temple he would raise it up again in three days, is part of the evidence brought against him at his trial to help support the false charge against him of blasphemy.

The scene is of course very dramatic; and St John, of all the evangelists, brings out most strongly not only the sacrilegious way in which the Temple, the holiest place in all the holy city of Jerusalem, is being desecrated by what is taking place and our Lord's righteousness anger at the way in which his Father's House is being treated like some kind of a market place. All mention the overturning of the money-changers tables and the driving out of the temple those who were selling there; but John alone mentions the sheep and the cattle, as well as the doves which are mentioned by some of the others. Now this is a farming community, so there is no need for me to mention the filthy state the ground of the temple courts would have been with all these poor creatures penned up inside the place. Is it any wonder that the Son of God was appalled at the sight? This was surely no way to treat God's House! And so he drove them out; and John underlines the extent of his holy indignation by mentioning a detail that the other evangelists have omitted – the whip made with his own hands from cords that he has picked up from amongst the litter of the place.

The prophesy of the Passion he will endure that is contained in this passage is an important one in this Great season of Lent when we, like Christ, journey toward Jerusalem. Indeed, perhaps it is because of these intimations of what our Lord is to suffer explains why it is that St John places this account at the beginning of his ministry – he wants to emphasise that Jesus knew, even as he began, what it truly meant to be the Messiah, and that it was not a role that would bring earthly glory and authority, but that rather it would end with his death on the Cross.

Or rather, it would not end there. For our Lord's message concerning his own death to come also speaks of his Resurrection which will follow. It is therefore a message of hope, of joy, of the ultimate triumph over what seems like defeat.

It is a message that the Church of the day in which St John was writing desperately needed to hear. For theirs was a time of persecution … and savage persecution at that. They risked everything for their faith; and quite frequently suffered the most terrible of fates. A quick execution by the sword was the best they could hope for; and more often it was death by slow and perverse torture … and not infrequently the abominable fate of being thrown to the wild beasts in the arena where they would be torn to pieces and devoured for the amusement of the crowd. So they very much needed a message of hope … and who better to bring it to them than one such as St John, by then the last remaining of the original 12 Apostles, a man who had walked the roads of the Holy Land with Jesus, ate with him day by day, the Beloved Disciple who sat with his head in his master's bosom at the Last Supper, and who had seen the Church spread from Jerusalem throughout all the known world in the years that followed? He had seen the Risen Lord and could testify to the truth that he had indeed passed from death to life before returning to his Father in Heaven.

We know that having the Word of God set before them by St John, as well by others, did indeed help give them the strength they needed to continue strong in the faith because we know that the Church came through those bad days, winning more and more souls for Christ day by day, spreading further and further in the world, and continuing to do so down through the ages.

This message of hope that the Church will prevail, come what may, remains just as important for Christians today. Around the world many of our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to face severe persecution – martyrdom, we must never forget, is not simply something from the dark past but remains a reality today and indeed takes place in greater numbers than in any previous time in history; and in the Western World we face scorn from many, and attempts from some to squeeze our voices, concerns, and values to from public debate, declaring that in the name of tolerance our beliefs and views are not to be tolerated. We are, we are told, on the wrong side of history. But we need not be afraid. The Church will prevail. We know this because God himself has told us so. There is only one right side of history – God's side, the side that results in salvation and eternal life in heaven with the Risen Lord. This is the side that I pray that I, and all here, will find ourselves on on that Great and Terrible Day at the End of the ages … in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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