Our Gospel reading tells the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple during the Passover celebration. Although the merchants and money changers undoubtedly abused the system, they contributed in a useful way, especially during the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Jews scattered all over the Mediterranean region returned to the Temple for worship. Those traveling long distances found it impractical to bring animals for the required sacrifices. Instead, they bought animals when they arrived at the Temple. Additionally, there were restrictions on the money used to pay the Temple tax. No foreign coins could be used because they had human images on them. So money changers helped the pilgrims procure an acceptable coinage for the tax.
When Jesus drives out the merchants and money changers, he disrupts a system designed to facilitate the spiritual life of Jewish pilgrims who traveled great distances to keep the law. Why would Jesus disrupt this religious system?
Jesus’ actions challenge a rigid religious system. The law has ceased to be the life-giving source of joy and learning. Instead, the system has become a fossil that supports the religious institution—no longer open to fresh, new revelation.
We can draw significant parallels between the Temple authorities and the contemporary church. We live in a time when church participation has declined. Surveys of the unchurched suggest that many do not experience Christian worship as life-giving and joyful. Our faithfulness to God demands that we reexamine our practices and remain open to change. Then we will experience the fresh movement of the Spirit.
Empower us, O God, to release fossilized religious practices and to open ourselves to your fresh revelation. Amen.
As we continue in the season of Lent, we remember another important chapter in salvation history. Just as God established covenants with Noah and Abraham and their descendants, so did God renew the relationship with the Israelites by giving them the law. Obedience to the law was not the means of earning God’s love, but a response of love by the people to the love God had already shown them. The psalmist understands that God’s law creates a cause for rejoicing, for it is more valuable than gold. Both Paul and John address situations in which some had distorted the worship of God. Either they considered themselves too good for the gospel (1 Corinthians), or they had violated the covenant by altering proper worship for the sake of profit (John).
• Read Exodus 20:1-17. How do you keep God central in your life? When do you relegate God to the margins?
• Read Psalm 19. What do the heavens tell you? How often do you spend time in nature? In what ways does that activity renew your spirit?
• Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. In what ways is the cross a stum-
bling block to you?
• Read John 2:13-22. What signs do you ask of God? In what ways might they be life-giving, a renewal of relationship with the Creator?
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