Cleansing the Temple

In today’s readings, Jesus “entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out
those who were selling things” (Luke 19:45). This is a scene that occurs in all four gospels. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the story appears towards the end of Jesus’ ministry. In the Gospel of John it appears at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

In Jesus’ day there was one thing that dominated the skyline of Jerusalem – the Temple – easily seen from across the way on the Mount of Olives, hovering over the Old City, and visible from every balcony in the upper city. It wasn’t the original Temple, that had been destroyed some 600 years before by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. This the second temple. Construction started about 520 years before Jesus’ time but it was King Herod the Great who make the temple a “wonder of the world.”

The Temple had once held the Ark of the Covenant, their sign of the everlasting covenant with God. The temple has once been the place where the kings of Israel would assemble the people and read to them the words of the Covenant and have them recommit themselves to it relationships with God. The Temple was the sign of the one, true God, home of scriptures and commandment. It was the site where heaven and earth touched.

In the book of Genesis, the garden of Eden is portrayed as a high place where heaven and earth are one, and human relationships reflect this unity. But Eden is lost when humans rebel against God, so the unity between heaven, earth, and all humanity is fractured. God’s work throughout the rest of the Bible is all about recovering this lost unity. Israel’s tabernacle and temple served as symbolic Edens as they allowed for human and divine space to overlap.

But the Temple is not simply a building in history. Listen to the words of St. Paul “Do you not know that your body is a temple* of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. (1 Cor 6:19) Each person is meant to be a place where human and divine meet – the very dwelling place of God in the world, a place of unity. A place often in need of cleansing, of redemption.

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