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Worship Service Message

March 3, 2024
3rd Sunday in Lent

Cleansing Which Temple

John 2:13-22

Rev. Dr. Jaegil Lee

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple occurs at the beginning of his ministry. This differs from the other three Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, which place the same story at the end of Jesus’ journey. Like this, because these three Gospels see Jesus’ life journey through almost same lens, they are called the “synoptic” (syn-together or same and optic-seeing or viewing) Gospels. 

In these synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ journey to the cross is his journey to Jerusalem. To boldly face his final destiny, Jesus went up to Jerusalem, where he stayed only a few days before being arrested and persecuted. 

However, in the Gospel of John, we see Jesus in Jerusalem at the very beginning of his ministry. We found him in a rather uncomfortable setting. 

In the last week’s story, Jesus called Peter “Satan.” That was shocking. And in today’s story, Jesus was consumed with anger and forcefully expelled merchants from the temple using a whip! What radical and aggressive behaviors! Once again, can you see that Jesus was not necessarily a nice person, whatever nice means for you?

Furthermore, if you know what episode is placed just before today’s episode in the Gospel of John, today’s story could be even more uncomfortable and disturbing. Do you know what story comes right before today’s lesson? 

Cana’s Wedding! Yes, a wedding story. The wedding was described as a feast, and in that feast, Jesus turned water into wine because wine had run out. Jesus made people happy at the wedding with good quality of wine. He was helping and positively contributing for the feast. Basically, he was kind of a “nice” person. 

BUT after this wedding, we are almost immediately led to meet a very different aspect of Jesus. This change is very sudden. He literally chased people and their sheep and cattle away from the Temple with a whip he made and turned over the tables and scattered coins. Just take a moment to visualize what Jesus was doing. Isn’t it true that his behavior is quite aggressive and disturbing?   

In the Gospel of John, Cana’s wedding is Jesus’ first public appearance. And Jesus’ challenging of the Temple system is his second appearance. It seems, and I believe, that John purposefully put these two stories one after the other. 

There are so many different ways to interpret and draw meanings from this connection of these two stories. Also, I know today’s story of Jesus’ challenging the Temple system has strong political messages to us. Nevertheless, today, I would like to share my personal insight that I have received as I reflected on today’s scriptural lesson this time. Keep in mind that what I would share about today’s reading next year would be quite different from what I am sharing with you today.  

What I have received from the Spirit of God is very simple, but personally significant. Cana’s wedding symbolizes the importance of spiritual union between humanity and God. However, this spiritual union cannot be fulfilled by mere rituals or ceremonies. It requires the transformation of turning water into wine. 

Cana’s Wedding story presents the necessity of transformation, but in a very gentle way. It is true that sometimes transformation happens without us recognizing it’s happening just like people didn’t know where good wine came from. When we have an opportunity to explore Cana’s Wedding story itself, we will go deeper into it, but not today.

However, unlike Cana’s Wedding story, today’s scriptural reading conveys this lesson of the necessity of transformation in a rather radically violent way. Transformation does not always happen gently and calmly. Transformation sometimes, if not oftentimes, comes violently like a storm or a volcano. Jesus’ turning everything upside down in the temple symbolizes a radical and violent change—change that shakes the entire system and everything in it.

In today’s story, this change is depicted as an external occurrence. There is no question that external changes are necessary. However, an interesting twist happens when Jesus and the religious leaders had a brief conversation.  

By the way, the Gospel of John is also different from the other three synoptic Gospels in adding this brief conversation between Jesus and religious-political leaders. In fact, this conversation changes almost the entire meaning of the story. 

On the surface level, the temple is a building where Jesus turned everything upside down. However, when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again!” we are invited to go deeper and beyond the surface level. Soon we realize the temple is not merely an external construction, but something more. 

Then finally we hear that “Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.” This is a profound moment. This is when we are forced to re-evaluate what we thought we had already known, the meaning of the Temple. 

When we hear “Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body,” this could create an interesting image in our mind, that is, the temple of Jesus’ body in the physical Jerusalem temple. Simply, we can imagine the true temple in a temple. Take a moment to visualize that.  In size, the Jerusalem Temple is far bigger, yet the temple of Jesus’ body is far more powerful and significant. While the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed and gone, the temple of Jesus’ body couldn’t be destroyed and was resurrected by God.

The same is true of the temple of our body. The power and significance of the temple of our body are greater than any physical temples, cathedrals, and churches. The temple of our body cannot be destroyed and will be resurrected by God when the world attempts to destroy it. What is the body here? Please don’t look for an answer from me. Rather, continue holding that question, “What does the body mean here?” in your heart sincerely so you can hear the answer offered by the spirit of God.

However, we have to invite Christ into the temple of our body so he can disturb all our beliefs and convictions and expel all the falsities, lies, and untruths within and turn everything upside down. 

Personally, Jesus’ words, “Stop making my Father/Mother’s house a marketplace” spoke to me this time. This imperative of Jesus has led me to examine my inner intentions for everything I do. How do I use the temple of my body? For what do I use the temple of my body? What is the primary purpose of my moving and using the temple of my body? What are the primary motivations for every action I take? Is it to serve God and others as children of God or to make more money? 

How much of my thinking and action of the temple of my body is led by a holy desire to deliver children of God, my neighbors, from pain and suffering, and how much of it is driven by worries about financial security?  How often am I making the temple of my body, my Father/Mother’s house, a marketplace by my decisions and actions? How often am I honoring the temple of my body, my Father/Mother’s house as a truly holy sanctuary where people around me feel, see, or meet the Divine? 

How about you? What kinds of questions does today’s scripture evoke within you? Here is one question I would like all of us to ask for this week. That is, “How can we make the temple of our body less a marketplace but more a truly holy sanctuary through our thoughts, words, and actions?” We need to ask this question not only once but constantly throughout the week and this Lenten season so answers given by the spirit of God can lead us to metanoia, the change of our mind and heart, the true repentance.

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