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The Temple All Around Us: Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Third Sunday in Lent:
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Through high school and part of university I worked at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. Once I was even on the cover of the Toronto Star in some story about the Market. It remains one of the more famous features of Waterloo Region. And one of the busiest. An uncomfortable amount of people. Locals (who generally know to get there right at opening), and then people who drive in from within an hour or so radius, and then tour buses and people on vacation. In my twenties I just could not understand people who would go to a different country, province, or city, and specifically search out a farmers’ market as part of that vacation. Now in my 40s, I must admit that it’s the kind of thing we do regularly when on holidays…

But that exhausted, disgruntled market worker part of me understands some of Jesus’s frustrations: the crowds (especially at the huge Passover pilgrimage festival), the noise, the smell, the tourists and people who prey on them… and the production of it all… it can be grating. Is this a farmers’ market, or is it a carnival???

In September 2013 I left Waterloo Region to start a degree at Trinity College in Toronto. The Farmers’ Market promptly burned down on September 2nd… As if it couldn’t imagine going on without me nearby… And the Jerusalem Temple, this “market place” with “cattle, sheep, and doves” and “money changers at their tables” — it burned down in the year 70, in the Jewish-Roman War that had started a few years earlier. And for Jews of the time, including some of the early Christians, it was hard to conceive of life, and religion, and the world, without the Temple. Our Gospels were and several other New Testament books were compiled in the shadow of the fall of the Temple, a time of upheaval and collective trauma. And of confusion and controversy about what faith would look like in this new normal: for Jews without a Temple, and for non-Jews joining this Jewish offshoot.

You might recall (or, I should say, you’ll surely recall) in the first Indiana Jones movie, the Nazis have secured the Ark of the Covenant. They open it up, and release nothing less than the power and presence of God that, in short order, lays waste to them all. The Temple, in Jesus’s day, housed that Ark, which is to say, what they believed to be the very presence of God. This was kept in the very inner part of the structure, separated by a veil (which will play a part on Good Friday). The high priest entered that sacred space just one day a year; I imagine more than a little worried about melting in the presence of the Lord… But in the outer courts, the other sections of the Temple, there was hustle and bustle.

And the Temple was the one place where animal sacrifice happened. Imagine having travelled for days or weeks to get there. It’s easier to purchase a sheep at the site rather than carry it with you all that way. Similarly with money: you don’t want to offer the currency of the frowned-upon occupying Roman forces. Or money from far-off places that’s unfamiliar. So there were money-changers on-site to ensure that you made a proper offering. So most commentators have gotten away from what used to be common assumptions that that the people involved in the system were corrupt: literally robbers and thieves. Even after Jesus’s resurrection The Acts of the Apostles describes his followers as going to the Temple to pray.

So instead we focus on more universal experiences that speak not simply to criticisms of ancient Judaism, but to limitations that we’re all susceptible to:

Beware of an approach to faith that is overly-transactional. ‘If I do THIS for God, then God will do THIS for me….’

    Be critical of systems that are overly tidy. The money changers and animal vendors were meant to assist in, and honour the holiness of the Temple, and of God’s presence within it. But instead, it became too much of a focus. A distraction, rather than an aid to people’s entrance into the mystery of God.

    And don’t let those means — maybe even God-given means — be confused with the end; their purpose (which is union with the Divine). This is what Jesus reveals: in his ministry, his death, and his resurrection: God, once thought of as limited to one sacred space, becomes present in all of our lived reality — even in the darkest parts of our lives.

    Jesus takes the spotlight off of objects — ‘things,’ and especially those things we classify as ‘religious’ — and instead reveals the sanctity and integrity imbued in everything. In Christ the meaning that resided in the brick and mortar Temple is now taken on by his body. (Which, especially if one recalls the brokenness of his body on the Cross, is to ‘the wise,’ foolishness and a stumbling block.) And by extension, that level of meaning carries over into his Body militant here on earth: the Church. So do we have eyes to recognize the Divine presence not only in Christ, or in Christ in the Eucharist, but also in Christ in our neighbour — including in our different, difficult, or annoying neighbour?

In Jesus’s shunning of the traditional and predictable practices associated with the Temple, Jesus echoes the sometimes radical and wild symbolic actions of the Hebrew prophets before him. And one passage is particularly associated with his demonstration, from the Book of Zechariah: “every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil the flesh of the sacrifice. And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”

So, especially in this simpler and sparser season of Lent, we have the opportunity to be curious about how our worship in this ‘house of the Lord’ can transform us and our way of looking and engaging with the world outside of this place. How does the poetry of the hymns and liturgy change the way you think and speak? How do the confession and the prayers change your attitude and your relationships? How does your theology — the way you think about God, and the things that you believe to be most important — how does that make you a more loving and just person, in line with the person of Jesus?

© 2024 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter