Exodus 20: 1-17; I Cor 1: 22-25; John 2: 13-25
The Cleansing of the Temple that we hear this weekend is not unique to John’s Gospel. We hear it in all the gospels so there is some historical accuracy to the account, but the other evangelists place it near the end of the story upon Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We’ll hear that on Palm Sunday from Mark’s Gospel. John, though, changes it up and places it near the beginning as the gospel opens with the first of three celebrations of Passover. It’s also rather crazily placed between the Miracle at Cana, the water into wine, just prior to it, and then follows with a rather intimate dialogue with Nicodemus just following this event and so it’s smack in between these stories. After this great celebration and the sign at Cana it’s as if things get turned upside down.
It’s placement almost seems as if to throw people off. As they begin to understand who this Jesus is in John’s Gospel, he seems to move which knocks everyone off kilter, almost appearing as if he’s creating these conflicts or certainly this tension where things seem to happen and change occurs. You know, at first glance there really is nothing wrong with what’s going on at the feast of Passover at the Temple. It was customary for people to sacrifice animals and so to be sold in that vicinity was common and so Jesus seems to overreact to it all when he shows up in Jerusalem for the feast. As he makes this move it seems to begin to cast doubt and almost chaos into the lives and hearts of the people he encounters. But maybe that’s his point all along.
Like any people, but in particular those he encounters today, we gradually become comfortable with what is and we begin to lose sight of the deeper realities that we’re being invited into. It’s what creates this misunderstanding in this passage and beyond in John’s Gospel. We become blind and deaf to things, where we can no longer see nor hear beyond the surface of our own hearts. Gradually it becomes a market place, as the writers note, but in that gradual process of becoming they in turn lose sight of the bigger picture and the deeper reality. Rather than becoming more like God and participating in that mystery, they become participants in this sham of a market place while their own gods are created. Christ entering the scene turns it upside down, literally and figuratively, to make them aware of what they have become and invite them to become something more, this deeper lived reality that can only come through Christ. He will enter into dialogue with them, push them, and be on the move. Of course, in all he encounters it requires a willingness and an openness on the part of the one encountered to change, to deepen, to see and hear with the heart.
It’s the message Paul conveys over and over again but in particular to the community at Corinth that we hear today. He reminds us that Jews demand signs and Gentiles wisdom but in the end what they really look for is proof in their own ways. They want to cling to what they know and to be able to hold onto something rather than enter more deeply into this mystery of faith. It is, as Paul reminds us, the paradox of the Cross. It’s the lived reality, as with John, to not become comfortable, because just like the encounters with Christ in that Gospel, God has a way of throwing us off kilter and remind us who’s really in charge of this life and all we can do is enter more deeply into the mystery as it unfolds within and beyond us.
The Ten Commandments, as we know them, come from the passage from Exodus today. However, what we hear this weekend is much more poetic than what we become accustomed to as kids growing up and the ten rules we’re expected to follow and somehow all is right with God. But just like the people John introduces us to, we often, over time, lose sight of the deeper meaning and purpose for what we do and are brought back in order to enter into dialogue once again. This is not to simply remind ourselves of the rules, like the ten commandments, but to enter into relationship with the unfolding mystery that lies within them, their deeper meaning, that the writer tries to convey. How easily we become blinded by our own lives and our own agendas that we to get stuck which is just another way of casting shadow on sin.
As we continue this Lenten journey and now enter into the Gospel of John, we’re invited into the experience of the cleansing of the Temple and allow ourselves to get knocked off kilter. We too become comfortable and blinded in our own lives where we can no longer see nor hear the deeper meaning and mystery. It may lead us into conflicted hearts or even the experience of tension, but as the gospel reminds us, that’s exactly where God works best because it shows an openness on our part to change and to deepen. We pray for that grace today, in our own misunderstandings as we hear in the gospel, our own comforts, our own blindness, may be torn from under us in order that we may fall freely into this unfolding mystery of the Christ. It’s what we truly desire and it’s the fullness of life that God continues to promise.