Reflection on the Gospel Reading – John 2: 13-22
In John’s Gospel the clearing / cleansing of the Temple is put near the beginning of the gospel, whereas in the other gospels it happens in the final week of Jesus’ life, as Jesus enters Jerusalem.
In John’s Gospel it comes after the wedding at Cana – and John wants us to understand in these two incidents who Jesus is and what this means. The two together define who Jesus is and the offer he makes. In the rest of the Gospel we find people either accepting this or arguing and rejecting it.
Jesus is the one who offers the best wine – and who will drink the bitter wine to the dregs as he dies on the cross. Jesus is the one who is the new Temple, the new “place” where we find God, and the ultimate sacrifice as – again – we see on the Cross. There is invitation and challenge.
The Temple of Jesus’ time was being grandly rebuilt by Herod – remember the Temple of Solomon was destroyed in 586BC and the one that Haggai and others built later was a much more modest building. Herod’s new Temple was undoubtedly grand to look at, but the religious practices were corrupt, with money-making and advantage-taking being the order of the day.
2000 years later we may not get the significance of what Jesus was saying; Yes he was declaring that the religious practices had become corrupt – but, more fundamentally, he was saying that people now do not need to go through the temple to find God, that God is now present in the person of Jesus (and subsequently in the presence of his Spirit to all, wherever they are).
Protestants have sometimes taken this as a reason for not needing church gatherings, but Jesus is not offering us individualised tickets to heaven, but calling us to form and be the people of God and live out the signs of the Kingdom as a people, together, centred on him, led by him, constituted by him. We are now to be a holy people; we are to be a royal priesthood (as Peter puts it). It is not for a religious elite, but open to all. We are to gather around Jesus.
Covid has meant we cannot gather; it has kept people isolated; we have had to do our best despite. Christ is with us but we look for the time when we can gather again.
The vision of God’s people gathered around Jesus is not a holy huddle but a dynamic movement, and always with outward-stretched arms, and a welcome for others. It is about invitation and welcome and service to the needy; it is about praise and joy and peace within and flowing out of the community; it is also about service and vulnerability not power and pomp. We don’t always live this vision, sadly; and sometimes we fail badly. There is a challenge to us – are our churches, the buildings, the governance, the worship, ministry and mission rooted in Christ and showing his fruits, or have we lost our first love, become fearful and turned in on ourselves?
And more positively, are we excited and uplifted by the truth that God is with us, we can be with God, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ?
Rev’d Peter Reiss