Sunday, March 11, 2012
The purification of the temple
Jesus, the new temple
1. Opening prayer
Spirit of truth, sent by Jesus to guide us to the whole truth, enlighten our minds so that we may understand the Scriptures. You who overshadowed Mary and made her fruitful ground where the Word of God could germinate, purify our hearts from all obstacles to the Word. Help us to learn like her to listen with good and pure hearts to the Word that God speaks to us in life and in Scripture, so that we may observe the Word and produce good fruit through our perseverance.
i) Context and structure:
Our passage follows immediately on the first sign that Jesus gave in Cana of Galilee (2:1-12). Some expressions and phrases are repeated in both scenes and lead us to think that the author wanted to contrast the two scenes. In Cana, a village in Galilee, during a wedding feast, a Jewish woman, the mother of Jesus, expresses her unconditional faith in Jesus and invites others to accept his word (2:3-5). On the other hand, "the Jews", during the Paschal celebration in Jerusalem, refuse to believe in Jesus and do not accept his word. In Cana, Jesus worked his first sign (2:11) and here the Jews ask for a sign (v.18) but then do not accept the sign Jesus gives them (2:20).
The development of our little story is quite simple. Verse 13 places in a framework a context of space and time that is very precise and significant: Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Paschal feast. Verse 14 introduces the scene that provokes a strong reaction on the part of Jesus. Jesus’ action is described in verse 15 and is caused by Jesus himself in verse 16. Jesus’ action and words in turn provoke two reactions. First, that of the disciples, one of admiration (v.17); secondly, that of the "Jews", one of dissent and indignation (v.18). They want an explanation from Jesus (v.19) but they are not open to receive this(v.20). At this point the narrator intervenes to interpret Jesus’ words authentically (v.21). "The Jews" cannot understand the real meaning of Jesus’ word. However, also the disciples, who admire him as a prophet full of zeal for God, cannot grasp the meaning now. It is only after the fulfilment that they will believe in Jesus’ word (v22). Finally, the narrator offers us a brief account of Jesus’ reception by the crowds in Jerusalem (vv.23-25). Yet, this faith, founded only on his signs, does not enthuse Jesus.
ii) The text:
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to 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, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he spoke of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; 24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them, 25 because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
i) Am I able to trust myself completely in God’s hands in an act of faith or do I ask for signs?
ii) God gives me many signs of his presence in my life. Am I capable of seeing and accepting them?
iii) Am I satisfied with exterior worship or do I try to offer God the worship of my obedience in my daily life?
iv) Who is Jesus for me? Am I aware that only in him and through him is it possible to meet God?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.
John’s Gospel is characterised by a long argument concerning the identity of Jesus. In this Christological argument, on the one hand we have Jesus and on the other "the Jews". But this argument, rather than reflecting the historical situation at the time of Jesus, reflects the situation which developed towards the 80s of the first century between the followers of Jesus and the Jews who had not accepted him as the Son of God and Messiah. It is certain that the conflict had already begun at the time of Jesus, but the gap between the two groups, both of whom were Jews, became set when those who did not accept Jesus as Son of God and Messiah and held him to be a blasphemer, expelled the disciples of Jesus from the synagogue, that is, from the community of Jewish believers (see Jn 9:22; 12:42; 16:2).
Hence, "the Jews" that we often come across in the fourth Gospel, do not represent the Jewish people. They are literary characters in the Christological argument that evolves in this Gospel. They do not represent a race, but those who have taken the clear position of an absolute rejection of Jesus. In any reading of the Gospel, "the Jews" are all those who refuse Jesus, no matter what the race or time to which they belong.
The healings and other thaumaturgical acts of Jesus that the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) call miracles or prodigies, John calls signs. As signs, they point to something that goes beyond the visible action. They reveal the mystery of Jesus. Thus, for instance, the healing of the man born blind reveals Jesus as light of the world (Jn 8:12; 9:1-41), the raising of Lazarus from the dead reveals Jesus as the resurrection and the life (see Jn 11:1-45).
In our passage, "the Jews" ask for a sign in the sense of a proof that will authenticate the words and actions of Jesus. But in the fourth Gospel, Jesus does not work signs as proof guaranteeing faith. A faith founded on signs is not sufficient. It is only an initial faith that may lead to true faith (see Jn 20:30-31), but may also not do so (see Jn 6:26).
John’s Gospel asks us to go beyond signs, not to dwell on the spectacular, but to see the deepest meaning in the revelation that the signs point to.
Jesus, new temple
The temple in Jerusalem was the place of the presence of God in the midst of the people. Yet the prophets constantly insisted that it was not sufficient to go to the temple and offer sacrifices there in order to be accepted by God (see Is 1:10-17; Jer 7:1-28; Am 4:4-5; 5:21-27). God wants obedience and a life morally straight and just. If the exterior cult does not express such a vital attitude, then it is empty (see 1 Sam 15:22). Jesus inserts himself in that prophetic tradition of the purification of the cult (see Za 14:23 and Mi 3:1 for the action of the coming "Messiah" in this context). The disciples admire him for this and immediately think that for this attitude he will have to pay personally like Jeremiah (see Jer 26:1-15) and other prophets. But in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ action is more than just a prophetic gesture of zeal for God. It is a sign that prefigures and proclaims the great sign of the death and resurrection of Jesus. More than just a purification, that which Jesus does is to abolish the temple and the cult there celebrated, because from now on the place of the presence of God is the glorified body of Jesus (see Jn 1:51; 4:23).
6. Psalm 50
The cult according to God’s will
The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes, he does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
round about him a mighty tempest.
He calls to the heavens above and to the earth,
that he may judge his people:
"Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"
The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge!
"Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
I do not reprove you for your sacrifices;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will accept no bull from your house,
nor he-goat from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
"If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High;
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
But to the wicked God says:
"What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
If you see a thief, you are a friend of his;
and you keep company with adulterers.
"You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother's son.
These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
"Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I rend,
and there be none to deliver!
He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honours me;
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God!"
7. Closing prayer
Father, you have constituted your Son, Jesus, new temple of the new and eternal alliance, built not by the hands of human beings but by the Holy Spirit. Grant that, as we welcome in faith his Word, we may dwell in him and thus adore you in spirit and in truth. Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters who are the members of the body of Christ, so that in serving them we may offer you the cult that you desire from us. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.