Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
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.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
Psychologists tell us that, apart from the death of a loved one, perhaps the most traumatic experience a person can have is that of moving house. Those of us who have gone through all that is involved in this particular trauma can attest to the truth contained in these words. One of the benefits derived from the exercise, however, is that we get rid of all the junk we have accumulated since our last move. It could perhaps be argued that people's dread of moving is directly proportionate to the amount of stuff" they have gathered. The Israelites, having come out of Egypt, had been through the experience, and were inclined to avoid too much clutter. (One of the psalms laughs at the pagans who "carry around their idols made of wood.") Today we find Jesus clearing all the accumulated junk out of the Temple. But what is happening here is not merely the removal of unwanted items; by this symbolic act, Jesus is calling all the peoples of the earth to worship God "in spirit and in truth." True worshippers, he will tell us later in the gospel, are those who worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
Worship is not a word which figures largely in our religious vocabulary today. Like "adoration," it is a particularly God-centred word, ill-suited to be our self-centred age where religiousness is more often expressed in terms of self-actualization. There is a sense in which it is true to say that people today have forgotten how to worship, so that often even our liturgical acts become simply gatherings or experiences. To worship means to acknowledge the transcendence of God, and his claim on us as our creator, and to respond appropriately. Rather than being just a relic of primitive religion, worship is an integral part of the Judeo-Christian religious sense. From deep within our self springs the desire to worship and adore God. Getting in tune with that desire, and expressing it through word and gesture is at the heart of prayer.
In order to worship in spirit and in truth, we must prepare our hearts and minds by being faithful to the covenant relationship (keeping the commandments) and seeking the wisdom of God, which is the wisdom of the cross. We have to let Jesus cleanse us, as he cleansed the Temple, leave our sins behind, and simplify our lives, getting rid of any needless clutter. Then we are able to enter into the new Temple, which is Jesus himself, praying in and through him.
When the side of Jesus was pierced on Calvary, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The place of worship is no longer the Temple in Jerusalem; now, it is through the pierced side of Christ that we have "access to the Father in the one Spirit." So it is that, after the resurrection, Thomas will place his hand in Jesus's side and worship, saying, "My Lord and my God," as today's gospel tells us: "When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples rememberedâ€¦ and believed. If we are to properly worship God, we must leave behind everything that gets in the way, then enter into that secret chamber which is the side of Christ, and there worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
Compared to earlier generations, one of the features that characterizes this generation is speed. We can communicate with one another at a speed that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago. An email reaches its destination on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. Journeys that took days or even weeks in the time of my grandparents now take hours. Builders build much faster than they built in the past. We need only think of the changes in our own city resulting from the building boom at the start of this century. Many of us probably think that much of what has been built quickly may not endure; it won't stand the test of time. In the ancient world, the world of Jesus, the world of the early church, buildings, especially significant political or religious buildings, were built to last. If you go to Rome today, you can still see the remains of the significant political and religious buildings of the Roman Empire. In Jerusalem, in the time of Jesus, the most significant public building by far was a religious building, the temple. In the gospel this morning, the Jewish authorities remind Jesus that it had taken forty six years to build the temple. Indeed, in the time of Jesus, the temple begun by Herod the Great was not yet complete. It would take another fourteen years, sixty years in all, for it to be finally finished. If a building firm gave a timescale of sixty years to complete a building today, it is fair to say that they would be unlikely to get the contract.
Jesus knew the huge religious and political significance of the temple in his day, and yet he challenged it, and he challenged those responsible for it, because he recognized that the temple was not in fact serving God's purposes. As Jesus says in this morning's gospel reading, 'Stop turning my Father's house into a market'. There is a big difference between a house and a market. A house has the potential at least to be a home. A market could never really be a home; people go to markets to buy and sell. Buying and selling are not activities you associate with home. The temple was to be God's house, God's home, a place where all people could feel at home in God's presence. The activities associated with the market were preventing the temple from being the home that God wanted it to be, a spiritual home for all the nations. Jesus saw that here was an institution in need of reform.
Every institution, including every religious institution, is always in need of reform. The church, in so far as it is a human institution, is in need of ongoing reform. The church exists to serve the purposes of God, the purposes of God's Son, in the world. However, inevitably, because the church is composed of human beings, it can also serve as a block to God's purposes. The church is called to be the sacrament of Christ, to reveal the powerful and life-giving presence of Christ to the world. However, invariably, it will often hide Christ or revealed a distorted image of Christ to the world, one that is not fully in keeping with the gospels. In the second reading, Paul sets God's wisdom over against human wisdom, God's power over against human strength. The church can sometimes substitute God's wisdom with human wisdom, God's power with human strength. Just as in the gospel Jesus wanted to purify the temple, the risen Lord is constantly working to purify the church. All of us who make up the church need to be open to his purifying presence. In the works of the book of Revelation, we need to be listening to what the Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Lord, is saying to us the church. Those in positions of leadership in the church have a special responsibility to listen to what the Spirit may be saying to the church, so as to bring it more into line with what God intends. However, we are all called to listen to the challenging word of the Spirit and to be open to the purifying presence of the risen Lord. We are all the church, and we all have our part to play in ensuring that the church is what the Lord intends it to be. Lent in particular is a time when we try to listen to what the Spirit may be saying to us about our lives; it is a time when as individuals and as a community we are called to allow the Spirit to renew our lives so that we conform more fully to the image and likeness of Christ.
The fiery Jesus of the gospel who is passionate about what God wants remains alive and active at the heart of the church today. The relationship between the Lord and the church, between the Lord and each one of us, will always be marked by a certain tension, because the Lord will always be working to purify and renew us. In the light of the gospel we might ask ourselves in what ways we have allowed the values of the market place to override the values of the gospel in our own lives, in the life of our society, in the life of our church.