3d Sunday of Lent
March 8, 2015
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“He was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2: 21).
The story of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, as it’s called—driving merchants and money-changers out of the sacred precincts—is one of those stories recorded in all 4 of the gospels. That alone is a mark of its significance. All 4 gospels link the event to the hostility of the Jewish leaders to Jesus.
In the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—this dramatic event takes place right after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and precipitates the priests’ and Sanhedrin’s decision to arrest him later in the week. St. John, on the other hand, puts the story at the beginning of Jesus’ public life, at the 1st of 3 Passover feasts that punctuate his ministry—3 Passovers that help John tell us who Jesus is and what his life, death, and resurrection mean. For John this event in the temple is the 1st sign of enmity between Jesus and the leaders of his people, enmity that will increase event by event, or in John’s terminology, sign by sign.
(Aside: It’s from St. John only that we get the idea that Jesus’ ministry covered 3 years—actually, just a little more than 2 years, the spread from this 1st Passover occurrence until his death on the eve of the 3d Passover. The Synoptics are very vague about chronology, but their stories pretty much would fit within one year.)
St. John also gives us a hint about when this cleansing of the temple took place: 46 years after King Herod began a major reconstruction of the temple, or in 28 A.D. That dating is consistent with the information that St. Luke gives us for the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry in 3:1-2.
Chronology, however, isn’t St. John’s concern in narrating this story. Rather, he’s presenting to us the new temple where we are to worship God. “Destroy this temple, and in 3 days I’ll raise it up again. He was speaking of the temple of his body” (2:19,21).
A little later in John’s narrative, Jesus will tell the Samaritan woman that the time is coming when true worship of God will no longer be offered in Jerusalem—at the magnificent temple ordained by God in the Torah, rebuilt after the Jews’ exile in Babylon, and further beautified by Herod and his successors; but God’s authentic worshipers will adore him “in Spirit and in truth” (4:23).
That true and complete worship will no longer be tied to a specific physical place. It will no longer be limited by geography—or by nationality. All who are gifted with God’s Holy Spirit may take part. All who seek and adhere to the truth may take part. This worship will be centered on the person of God’s own Son, who offers himself as the perfect, timeless sacrifice of praise and atonement to God. “He was speaking about the temple of his body.”
|By Vasili Golinsky|
Christ’s enemies indeed attempted to destroy his body, and they won a brief victory on Calvary. Their victory was literally short-lived because God raised him up to eternal life, killing their victory, crushing the destructive powers of sin and death. “In 3 days I will raise up this temple” (2:19).
The living temple of Christ’s body is where and how we, his followers who “believe in his name” (2:23), worship God. By God’s mysterious power, by the power of the Spirit, all of us who have been baptized into Christ are part of his living body,. Wherever we gather as believers, Christ is with us, making us into his body: “Where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20); no physical building is required (altho physical buildings are undoubtedly very useful for our gatherings, and physical furnishings are essential for our public worship). Only faith is required: we believe in his name.
Not only was Christ’s body not destroyed on Good Friday, but it has spread to the ends of the earth, taking in people of every nation and of every time—even, we believe, people whose time on earth preceded Christ’s, such is the power of God’s love. “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God … and the weakness of God [shown in Christ’s suffering and death] is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:24-25). The weakness of Christ’s humanity hides his divine power, the divine power that makes his body a temple; the divine power that he passes on to us who “believe in his name” so that we also are temples of his Holy Spirit.
Our participation in the body of Christ culminates in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is the body of Christ that was put to death and rose to eternal life on the 3d day. We become the body of Christ by fulfilling his command to take and eat, take and drink—which is why we who follow him must come together to celebrate the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist the temple of Christ’s body is diminished. Particularly we celebrate the Eucharist on the 1st day of the week, the day when Christ was raised up, the day when God recreated the world, rather than on the sabbath day, the 7th day, the day when God rested from the 1st creation (cf. Ex 20:8-11) and the day when the crucified Lord rested in the tomb.
We become the temple of his body by partaking in his body. As the temple of his body was raised on the 3d day, we look toward our own being raised up because we are part of his body: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”