Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent
“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
Jesus, in John 2:13-22, NRSV.
“I suppose the bin gets to go out more than you can!” My brother’s recent comment.
Today’s Gospel makes difficult reading, as Jesus makes a whip to drive out the live sacrificial animals in the Temple and overturns the tables of the money changers. This is not in keeping with the usual behaviour of the Prince of Peace and it won’t have done him any favours with the traders or the temple authorities, but Jesus clearly feels very strongly about what is happening and what needs to be done about it – regardless of what others may think.
John’s gospel puts this at the start of his ministry whereas the others include it near the end. For John, this happens just after the turning of water into wine at the wedding at Cana where Jesus, “…revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (2:11). After the joy of that first miracle, how confusing it must have been for the disciples – all Jews, like Jesus – to see what he was now doing in this holy place.
Animals sold for sacrifice had to be perfect and could not be brought in from a distance, just as the money of those who arrived from so many different places had to be changed into currency acceptable in the temple – all this was legitimate according to the practice of those times. However, as it was almost Passover, the population would swell hugely as people went up to Jerusalem for the festival and the overcrowding in the temple would be great. The noise of the sellers, money changers and animals, as well as the mess and smell, is clearly too much for Jesus and he takes action accordingly against what others have come to accept. Perhaps there are things we have become so used to that we don’t realise they are no longer appropriate or action needs to be taken?
Jesus also talks of the temple being destroyed and then raised again in three days, which John interprets as the temple of his body at his resurrection when Jesus’ words are recalled by his followers. However, this cleansing of the temple hints at the conflict to come with the authorities – for now, confusion and speculation results.
There is more than a hint of conflict with the authorities in the current disagreements now being experienced here over vaccination, plans for emerging from lockdown, the pay rise of 1% for NHS workers, climate change, Myanmar, Hong Kong……. The list is endless and the disagreements many – but there was a point of conflict for Melangell and Prince Brochwel, too.
In being ordered by Brochwel to hand over the hare that had fled to her for shelter, Melangell’s refusal could have provoked the prince into the use of force. Instead, something about her leads to him handing over that part of the valley for her use and the building of the community of which she becomes abbess. Generosity springs from the encounter – perhaps their example could inspire a similar response today.
In the time of Jesus and his disciples, the temple had, for good reason originally, become what it was not intended to be – a cluttered marketplace spilling into a place of worship. Hearts and homes, churches and offices can also become places where a lot of clutter accumulates as we go through life and perhaps we, too, have overcrowding where space was intended for prayer, peace and hope. During the pandemic, many people have been de-cluttering their rooms and the charity shops have benefitted – when they were open. My brother is also correct when he suggests that the rubbish bin goes out more often than me!
This Lent, perhaps a clear out and cleansing of hearts and minds is also overdue: as the hymn suggests, “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.” Is there room for him and for the important things of life that are sometimes overlooked? If not, how can space be created each day as we, too, begin to prepare to go up to Jerusalem for the approaching festival as Passiontide, Holy Week and Passover draw nearer?
With my prayers,