Third Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2006
The Gospel: John 2:13-22
Sermon: "Another View of the Moneychangers in the Temple"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Another View of the Moneychangers in the Temple
Third Sunday in Lent - March 19, 2006
It is difficult for us to imagine what Jesus walked into on that fateful day. Here is the Temple. It is considered to be the most holy of places. In this holy place Jesus finds something that makes no sense. He finds people selling animals and he sees people exchanging money.
We have to remember that the culture was a sacrificial culture. The sacrifice of animals was an accepted practice. People brought animals to be sacrificed or they purchased them in Jerusalem. The problem is these animals are being sold in the courtyard of the Temple. Furthermore, there apparently were other shady practices occurring as well. Some people were being overcharged and others were taking a cut from the sales.
In addition, Jesus also sees moneychangers. In Jesus' day, it was not lawful to bring a coin with an inscription or bust on it into the Temple area. Only coins that were free of any form could be brought into the Temple and placed into the offering. So, the moneychangers were exchanging Roman and other coins of the realm for the Temple coinage. Of course, you can imagine the exchange rate was not quite full. There was a fee for the service. These practices are what Jesus walks into.
Now, let's see what our practices might be. In your bulletin you found a charge slip for a credit card. Now, let's say we had two members of the church at the front door. Before anyone could enter each person had to fill out their card. Suppose the card read scripture reading, sermon, music, Eucharist, candles, flowers, choir, heating, cooling, and of course offering. Then another line did not read tax, but service charge. That would be the fee required of the two people hired to process the credit card. This activity takes place just inside the front doors in the narthex. Can we imagine how we might feel if we came to church and this scenario greeted us? Something tells me we wouldn't be very understanding. As a matter of fact, we might walk away or we might very well get angry. We might even throw the two guys out of the church and break the credit card machines. If we walked away in anger or threw them out then we would be just like Jesus. We could even use this story to support our actions.
Now, that is one aspect of this story. But as often is the case in the scriptures there is something else going on as well. There is a very deep spiritual dimension going on here. It can be easily overlooked because we get caught up in the reaction of Jesus. The deep spiritual aspect also involves a temple. This temple is the temple of the body. After Jesus throws out the moneychangers he is approached by the leaders of the Temple. They ask for a sign as to why he just did these actions. He responds with, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' Of course they thought he was talking about the Temple in which they were standing. Jesus did not mean that temple at all. He was talking about the temple of his body. He was talking about the crucifixion and the resurrection. His sign was yet to come. His sign would be the resurrection of the temple of his body. That sign would justify what he had one to the moneychangers. For God desires not the sacrifice of animals but a pure and clean heart. God desires the sacrifice of self which Jesus gave as a symbol to us.
Here is the teaching for us in Jesus' words and actions. We are supposed to be temples. Think about what we have heard today. The Ten Commandments are guidelines for us. They provide a way for us to live that is holy and acceptable to God. The last verse of the psalm is almost a prayer asking that our words and our hearts be acceptable before God. In Ephesians 2:21, we hear these incredible words: "In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
We are to be a dwelling for God's Holy Spirit. We are to be a temple for the presence of God. Yet, I can imagine that we wonder how this action could take place. We aren't perfect. We fall short. We don't always do the right things or say the right things. We fall short at keeping the Ten Commandments. We aren't perfect and don't we have to be perfect to be this temple for God?
If we had to rely solely on ourselves and on our own strengths, then we would indeed be lost. We don't have to rely on ourselves. Jesus has led the way. He has shown us how to live for God. He has shown us how to love for God. Most importantly, he has conquered death and overcome the power of sin. Through the unselfish act of the cross Jesus made it possible for us to be living temples for God, not perfect, but trying. Not holy, but responding in love, to the One who is Holy. Jesus has gone before to prepare the way for us, simply because we can't do it on our own.
Today, we don't need to purchase animals for the sacrifice. We can't use credit cards to assure us of our salvation. In fact, we don't need to buy our way into God's grace. The Good News is that we only are asked to trust in the one who goes before us. We are asked to trust in Him and follow his ways, the ways of love, the best that we can. Amen.