CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Spring Cleaning
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
- John 2:13-22
This week we encounter Jesus in the temple, and he means business. He has come to proclaim the New Covenant, even though he knows it will ultimately cost him his life. But Jesus is different; he is not a go-along-get-along guy. For openers, he won’t preach the good news surrounded by the corruption that permeates the house of the Lord. So he overturns counters, dumps the cash drawers, and drives the merchants and their livestock from the temple.
It seems straightforward enough, until we realize that, once again, Jesus is operating on more than one level. The temple he says will be destroyed and rebuilt is a direct reference to his own approaching sacrificial death and resurrection. And indirectly he is also telling us to get our spiritual house in order. That’s why there is a Lent—a time to take inventory, a time to repent, a time to get our priorities straight.
As the disciples suddenly remember, Christ’s cleansing the temple was prophesized in Psalms: "Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me." In fulfilling this prophecy, Jesus is not consumed with love of the temple’s architecture, its construction or even its sanctuary.
When Joshua pledged, "As for me and my house…," he wasn’t dedicating bricks and mortar. The Greek word for house, oikus, means household. And it is for the household of God, his errant misguided people, that Jesus laments. He calls on his people to recoil from sin, to purge themselves—to repent. This translation also reinforces Christ identifying himself as a temple that will be destroyed and rise again in three days.
As a kid, hearing this gospel for the first time, naturally I identified with the good guy, the righteous Jesus. And I looked down on the bad guys, the money changers who were fouling the temple. Over time I came to realize a deeper meaning. The people Jesus drove from the temple are the very same people he came to save. They are sinners. They are us. The people who mocked him are the same people he would lay down his life for. They are sinners—no different from us, especially when we mock him with indifferent lip service and call it prayer, especially when we live proud, self-centered lives and call ourselves Christians.
Jesus was not deceived by the faux piety of the money changers. He saw through them as he sees through us. And yet, even in his wrath, he loved them as he loves us. He died for us all: in our sins, in our pride, in our greed, in our neglect. Jesus does not love us for whom we ought to be. He loves us as we are in our falls and in our resurrections.
He does not drive us out. He gathers us in to live in his love. Jesus uses this gospel to tell us we have a lot of cleaning-up to do. Paul tells us: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
Lent is set aside for each of us to give our temples a really thorough cleanup. Sure, we’re spiritually sprucing up all year round. But Lent is not here for light dusting. It’s time for heavy-duty scrubbing—purging the temple that God gave us, rededicating ourselves to God’s service.
Start with a rigorous spiritual inventory: What are your priorities? How do you spend your time? Do you truly accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Is he at the center of your life or on the periphery? How and when do you pray? Are you in continuous conversation with Jesus or have you silently drifted away? What fences need mending? What habits need breaking? What strengths need building? What relationships need fixing? Who needs your help today?
This isn’t a complete list. But it is a good start to putting your temple in order—to tackling your own spiritual spring cleaning. So, roll up your sleeves and pitch in. It will make your life healthier, happier and holier. Ask Jesus to lend you a hand: throwing out the guilt, polishing up the joy, making room for love. Spring cleaning with Jesus—that’s what Lent is for.
The Rev. Canon David Sellery is canon for congregational mission in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
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