Jesus Cleanses the TempleMark 11:15-17 (NRSV)
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Over the last year, because of the pandemic, we have heard a lot about cleansing and disinfecting our homes, our workspaces, our schools our churches, our groceries, our hands, and just about everything else. Many cleansing and disinfecting products claim to be 99% effective against germs and bacteria assuring a healthy and safe surrounding for all.
Every spring in Oldtown, just before Easter, we usually have a clean-up day when we come together as a church family to dust the sanctuary, sweep out the pews, wash the windows and polish the silver windchime as we look to clean the dust, dirt, and fingerprints that the public use of a building brings.
There is even a story in the Bible about Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus’ story is a little bit different. You see, he is worried about cleansing power, but not the cleansing power of a detergent. After all, he doesn’t use name-brand cleaners and sophisticated disinfectants, because he is not worried about the everyday dust, dirt, and fingerprints left by human hands and feet. Jesus isn’t worried about germs or bacteria or physical dirt. He is worried about what the temple has become. You see, over the years, new traditions and rituals began popping up, and little by little the misused power of authority and the corruption of society took over, and the focus of faith was lost.
For us, it’s easy to point fingers at the buyers and the sellers in the temple in Jerusalem because Jesus opened our eyes to the corruption. But the average person would have entered the temple looking to buy a sacrifice to present during worship, something that previously would have been brought from their home or their village, but over the years, sellers began selling sacrifices at the temple. I’m sure it started out as a way to help the crowds and make life easier, but soon the selling became unethical. Taxes were exorbitant, and what once was a ritual of faith, became a money-making scheme to cheat the poor and put more money in the coffers of the religious leaders and the pockets of the government.
For some people, they never knew the temple to be any different than the way it was. After all, that was the way they had always done it. But when Jesus entered the temple that day, turning over the tables, running out the sellers and the buyer, and chasing away the money changers and the people who sold doves. He cleansed the misuse of power. He gave a voice back to the voiceless, and he returned the temple to a place of worship and prayer, a clean, safe, and welcoming place for everyone.
Friends the truth is, we too lose focus sometimes. We get too comfortable. We begin to worship our preferences and we lose sight of our faith. Because when we lean on our own comforts, our traditions, and even on our beliefs without sometimes asking why we do what we do, over the years, if we are not careful, bad habits begin to sneak in without us knowing or realizing it. And we need to take another look, not just going through the motions and doing what we have always done but turning over the tables of traditions and rituals to make sure that what we are saying and doing truly follows God’s call, humbly loving the unlovable and giving voice to the voiceless as we follow our call to love and serve all.
Back in Jesus’ day, the misuse of power and the dishonest, and unethical behaviors, rituals, and traditions were adding to the division and chaos of society rather than bringing people to faith. Because the temple and its leaders had lost its mission and reason for being. They had forgotten who and whose they were, and they began serving other gods–the gods of money and society, the gods of comfort and selfishness.
Friends, we are being given an amazing gift right now. As we begin to imagine the day that we return to our sanctuary we are being given the gift to look with fresh eyes at what we do and why we do it. We have a new beginning coming, and it’s up to us to dream and imagine how it will look and what it will call us to do. Though it is not quite time to start dusting and sweeping and washing the windows, it is definitely time to start asking questions, recognizing the things that hold us and others back from living lives of faith, so that Oldtown can truly being a beacon of light for all of God’s children.
As we reimagine and begin to structure a space where Jesus truly can stand among us, we need to not only look through the lens of love, but we need to learn to be a church that truly expresses its faith, not through opinions, traditions, and things that divide, but simply through honest-to-goodness love.