Devotional Message for the Third Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/4/2018)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1st Corinthians 1:18-25
St. John 2:13-22

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 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.

St. John 2:13-22 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Passion and Intensity

It is a different image of Jesus than I customarily have in mind. In my childhood Sunday school classroom there hung a picture of Jesus sitting in a pasture with a group of young children. We knew it was Jesus because of the soft lighting and his light brown, well-trimmed beard. He had a gentle smile on his face, clearly adoring these little children, and I later began to suspect that he was enjoying a few peaceful minutes away from the challenging opposition he was facing from so many people. Over time, my mental picture of him has become a bit more nuanced, but I’m sure it is still, at least in part, informed by having seen that painting every Sunday for years.

This week’s Gospel text bears a different image to us. Rather than “Gentle, Norwegian Jesus with Children,” it seems to be more like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Early in St. John’s Gospel (as opposed to much later in Mark 11, Luke 19 and Matthew 21) Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem for Passover. As he arrives at the temple he encounters vendors and money changers. He makes a whip out of cords. Here I picture Gentle, Norwegian Jesus calmly sitting in a corner, like a third grader doing crafts at summer camp, braiding strands of leather and watching the proceedings. Then, in what seems like a fit of fury, he drives all the animals out of the temple and overturns the tables.

It appears, at first, that he is offended by commerce in this house of worship: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples later reflected on this in light of Psalm 69.

7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. 8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children. 9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

However, the heart of this text may be found in verse 19. When they questioned his authority to clean up the temple “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ ” At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus declares that God is about to do something dramatically new, and in time people will discover that it has to do less with buildings, and more with him.

Is Jesus upset about vendors and moneychangers dishonoring the temple? If so, it hardly seems likely that what he does will last more than an afternoon. The next morning these merchants might be a bit wary, but they’ll have their tables and pens set up by the time the crowds begin filing in.

He is, instead, speaking of his body. His body, which eventually in that same city will be handed over to officials who will persecute him, execute him, and suppose they have done away with him. Yet their efforts will have the opposite effect, as word of his resurrection spreads across the land. Billions will discover that through this one, they are invited to enter again into the very presence of God.

We receive a glimpse of the passion and intensity of Jesus in this text, which will fuel his journey to the cross, and into our hearts today.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Are the merchants in the temple ill intended, or simply in the way of the people’s prayers?
  2. Why is it twice mentioned that the disciples remember this event, and what Jesus says?
  3. What do first-century temple worship and the resurrection of Jesus have in common?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What are my most potent images of Jesus, and how do they affect the way I experience him?
  2. What distracts me from a whole-hearted desire to be in the presence of God?
  3. How might I be passionate and intense enough to limit the impact of these distractions on me?