Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Attack on the Temple

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 -- Week of 1 Lent, Year One

To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 952)
Psalms 45  (morning)        47, 48 (evening)
Deuteronomy 9:4-12
Hebrews 3:1-11
John 2:13-22

Unlike the other three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke; sometimes called the three "synoptic" gospels, from the Greek "syn" meaning together and "optic" meaning "seen"), the gospel of John places the story of Jesus' cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of his ministry, not toward the end, during the week of his Passion.  Regardless of the chronology, it is a significant story, chronicled by all four gospels.

We don't get a single, clear interpretation of Jesus' purpose for his attack on the Temple commerce. 

In John's gospel, Jesus tells those who are selling the doves, "Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"  The word literally means "house of trade," a business.  In that context, Jesus' attack could be seen as an attack at the whole Temple economy.  The Temple was big business.  It's commerce supported a whole class of traders and suppliers, another group that might called financiers, and the elite who managed the entire system.

At the core of the business was the sacrificial system.  The people offered their devotion and prayers by sacrificing animals as a symbol of their offering of themselves and their prayer to God.  There were various motivations for the sacrifices, but the central motivation was for forgiveness, cleansing and blessing.  Jesus threatened the entire Temple monopoly by making God's forgiveness, cleansing and blessing freely available to all simply for the asking.  He spoke of a loving, compassionate, forgiving God, whom he affectionately called "Abba" -- a child's word, like Papa or Da-Da. 

The business of the Temple, like so much business, was subject to corruption and exploitation, especially toward peasants, the poor and those unfamiliar with its commerce.  There was the business of examining the animals being offered for sacrifice.  Any animal offered to God must be whole and unblemished.  It could not have defects of limb, formation or color.  There might have been some unscrupulous inspectors who rejected good animals in order to force the peasants to buy an animal that had already been approved through the official system.

The finance part of the Temple business had to do with the conversion of Roman coinage with its offensive foreign symbols for the approved Temple coinage.  Money changers offered that service at a fee.  Maybe Jesus objected to that whole money-changing system.  Maybe he objected to the fees, especially if they were exploitative.

In the synoptic versions of this story, Jesus quotes Jeremiah's Temple sermon (Jer. 7f), which was an attack on the Temple officials and upon the injustice of the people who use it to cover their wrongdoing.  "Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.'  For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, and if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

"Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are safe!' -- only to go on doing all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?"  Jeremiah then reminds them of the ancient temple in Shiloh which pre-dated the Jerusalem temple, and which Jeremiah says God destroyed because of the people's wickedness.

The synoptic writers imply that Jesus attacked the temple commerce for the same reasons that Jeremiah spoke against the temple in his day -- for covering up injustice and wrongdoing.

The other quote that the synoptic gospels include in their accounts comes from Isaiah, declaring that the temple is to be a "house of prayer for all peoples," -- a place that welcomes outsiders, non-Jews.

Jesus' act is a profound one, in the tradition of the great prophetic acts.  He attacks the business and commerce of the temple, its buying and selling of that which is free -- forgiveness, cleansing and blessing.  He attacks the temple monopoly.  He attacks the exploitation of the poor.  He attacks the covering up of injustice under religious piety.  He attacks two powerful systems -- an economic system and a religious system.  They will not take this lightly.



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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 3:35 PM, Blogger anglejax said...

Fr. Lowell,

Thank you again for your excellent thoughts here on your blog. I get a lot out of your reflections.

The *Cleansing of the Temple* story always reminds me of something St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, when he said that our bodies are a *temple of the Holy Spirit.* If I were to consider this, in light of your reflection today, this is what I come up with.

"Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" This teaches me to stay focused on the primary aim of my spiritual walk, which is looking for God. It keeps me honest and not greedy. It's not so much that I can make a living off of God, but that is besides the point. It teaches me that my primary goal is to be ore God/Christ-like, not to get rich.

The reference to the prophet Jeremiah reminds me that in order to get the full benefit of my spiritual path, I must walk the walk, not simply talk the talk. I must live a lifestyle that is consistent with Christian values. This means live life with peace, love, understanding and compassion for others. Living in harmony with all of those around me.

Here's where it gets a little tricky for me. *Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.* I want people to treat me with respect and human dignity. Though I may not agree with some people, I deserve to be treated as a Child of God. If this is what I want, then this is what I must do... I must treat those that I don't agree with with kindness, dignity and respect. It's as simple yet hard, as that.

Who, may I inquire, is a Child of God? *The temple is to be a 'house of prayer for all peoples.'* I guess this would include everybody. Myself, my family, my friends, my co-workers (if I was employed right now), my bosses, my neighbors, my fellow parishoners, my church, my state, my country, my world. Even those that I wouldn't want to be friendly with. I must recognize that in each and every human being that I am in contact with, no matter the age, gender, handicap, disability, nationality, race, religion, creed, orientation, etc... Everyone!

It's a tall order and it sometimes overwhelms me, but if I take it just a step at a time, moment by moment, person by person, case by case; then it gets a bit easier. If I'm content with what I have, it gets even more easier. If I can see the similarities I have with others and not focus on the differences, again, it gets easier.

I know that God is with me no matter what, that what Jesus did at the Temple in Jerusalem was to show that *Abba* is only a prayer away, that the only person standing in the way of the Father's Love is me.

I thank you, Fr. Lowell, for this reminder. Sharing your thoughts here on blogger is a real blessing to me.

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Lent Day Six

Christ's body given
Body of Christ - us! - redeemed
Temple reflects Soul


At 8:02 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Jack and Janet,

Thanks for the great contributions.



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