Today is Tuesday in Holy Week. Our Gospel lesson is drawn from Mark 11:15-19, the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple.
What is going on in this story must be carefully understood. So let’s read through it first, “And they came to Jerusalem. And Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and He would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. And He taught, and said to them, “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.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the multitude was astonished at His teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.” (Mar 11:15-19)
There are two important hermeneutical keys that we need to use that will help us find a correct understanding of this passage.
The first “key” is the theological and political syncretism of the Temple leadership. Jesus was not denigrating the Temple nor is He chastising the people who come there to worship. In Matthew’s reading (Matt 21:12-16) we see how “the blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant; and they said to Him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?” (Mat 21:12-16) God was in the Temple!
No, what Jesus was doing is attacking the political and religious syncretism that was the accepted “Temple philosophy” of the day. He was speaking to the Temple leadership and to their syncretistic ways that sadly they were passing on to the faithful as “the faith.” Their syncretistic godless philosophy is the “den” that Jesus refers too. The “robbers” are the leadership and teachers who know better but have chosen to steal the people’s hearts away from the faith.
A second “key” is the Temple itself. That amazing wonder of the world was built to be a bridge between the temporal and eternal, earthly and heavenly realities. Walking into it one should feel like they are in Heaven on earth. The earthly Temple was always intended to point beyond itself to God who is always reaching out to man. What often prevents God from getting through is the sin of pride. Sin has soiled man’s soul with a stain that only Jesus can remove. Jesus can restore our soul to a “glistening, intensely white, as no bleach on earth could do” (Mk 9:3 and Rev 7:14-14) by His bloody sacrifice on the Cross. We who are baptized into His blood are delivered from “the gloom of sin, and restored to grace and holiness of life.” (BCP 287)
In baptism the soul is made perfect by grace. Our life now is the story of God’s continual watchfulness over us. Each one of us is the object of the Lord’s special love. Jesus was ready to do everything for Jerusalem, but the city was not willing to open up her gates to His mercy. This is the deep mystery of human freedom which always retains that sad possibility of rejecting the grace of God.
The cleansing Jesus accomplished on the Cross continues in every age through the Church. We see its beginnings today in Jerusalem. It is God’s plan to use the Church to spread this cleansing influence and power (see Acts 19:20), and to become the imperishable seed by which every heart is born anew (see 1 Peter 1:23).
If you have been away from the Church for any amount of time, come home this Easter! If you have not been baptized and want to learn more about the Christian faith give us a call at St. John’s. We are here to help.