Jesus, the temple


A homily, based on John 2.13-22, preached with the people of the Episcopal Church congregations of All Saints’, Clinton, SC, and Epiphany, Laurens, SC, on Wednesday, February 28, 2018

All Saints’, Clinton, and Epiphany, Laurens, are eucharistically-centered Episcopal Church congregations. When our communities gather in worship of God in Christ through the power of the Spirit, in addition to floors, walls, and ceilings, we, at the least, need an altar, bread and wine, and copies of the Book of Common Prayer.

So, what if someone burst into our midst, ripping our prayer books from our hands, tossing them into the air, turning over our altar, shouting at us, “Zeal for God house consumes me!”? Doubtless, we would be dumbfounded, then angry. Then, once ridding ourselves of this sacrilegious intruder, we would restore our house of worship, of course, with Anglican “decency and order” and resume our proper liturgy. Perhaps on occasion, we might think back to that moment and wonder: “What, pray tell, was that about?”

In Jesus’ day, the Temple-liturgy, involving the payment of tithes and animal sacrifice on the part of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem from throughout the Empire, required money-changers to convert the varied currencies into sacred (acceptable) coins and animal-sellers to provide sacred (unblemished) sheep and cattle for proper offerings. Into this hustling-bustling milieu of commerce, too noisy to pray, and, worse, subject to the corruption of unbalanced scales and overpriced animals, enter Jesus, who, as the incarnate Word of God, disrupts this mercenary mercantilism, institutionally-sanctioned in the name of God.

The Merchants Chased from the Temple (Les vendeurs chassés du Temple) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Doubtless, the Temple authorities were dumbfounded, then angry. Then, once Jesus departed, they restored their sacred order of trade. Perhaps, on occasion, they thought back to that moment and wondered, “What, pray tell, was that about?”

For Jesus, the point was, is simply, profoundly this: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

The Temple then, our houses of worship now… Places erected and consecrated, set aside and apart from other places, for the communion of God and God’s people. Places established for the intersection of human living and divine blessing. And Jesus declares “I AM!(1) My person and presence, my body and being is the place where you can, where you will meet, know, be with God.”

As this is true, then we who worship and follow Jesus, whilst we are in this world of time and space, are those through whom, in the words of our lips and the works of our lives, all we meet and know are to meet and know God.

As this is true, then when our days are o’er, when we come to our end and no longer dwell in this world of time and space, as God raised Jesus from death, so, too, God will raise us!


Illustration: The merchants chased from the Temple, James Tissot (1836-1902)

(1) Here, I channel Jesus of John’s gospel who repeatedly refers to himself in the language of God’s Name (as told to Moses, “I AM Who I AM” – Exodus 3.14): “I am the bread of life (John 6.35, 48), “I am the light of the world” (John 8.12; 9.5); “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10.7, 9), “I am the good shepherd” (John 10.11, 14), , “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11.25), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14.6), “I am the true vine” (John 15.1, 5)

2 thoughts on “Jesus, the temple

  1. Thank you Paul!! I call this paragraph, “Places established for the intersection of human living and divine blessing.” including the declaration from Jesus that “I AM” the Paragraph of Power!! Meaning that if we follow it with our words and deeds we will meet and know God!! We can really accomplish this if we all try! It may be a slight shift in the words we use when communicating with folks with whom we disagree OR a huge shift in how we treat others who don’t look like us!! I believe that one of the reasons we reflect and focus during Lent is so that we can make the necessary changes that will allow us to meet and know God!! I LOVED the Zeal at the beginning of the sermon too and I thank you again for your encouragement on my sermon for Sunday!

    Much love!


  2. Loretta, I, too, believe that meeting and knowing God AND having others meet and know God through us summons us to behave differently with others, especially those with whom we disagree or who are unlike us.

    As I rethink what I have written/spoken/posted (which your commentary oft encourages me to do), it occurs to me that I was careful, perhaps unconsciously, not to add more words to my imaginary worship-disrupter beyond, “Zeal for God’s house consumes me.” Additional words, for example: “You worship God only (or mostly) with your lips, but little (or less) with your lives.” I didn’t do that for I didn’t wish to insult the folk gathered last night for Evening Prayer. I surely didn’t wish that they believe that I thought that of them…or, for that matter, of myself…

    However, this said, I do believe that we humans, as sinners of unavoidable self-interest (even in regard to our obedience to divine commandments) and as sensate, needing our physical senses to perceive reality, always and inescapably – to one degree or another – fall short of the “spiritual worship” that Jesus advocates (John 4.21, 23-24). Moreover, concerning our sensate nature, we desire AND need our houses of worship – places set aside for our encounter with the divine – and all of our trappings of worship. Still more, I think…I believe that whatever the elements of our worship – solemn or intellectually-stimulating or emotionally-uplifting and whether replete with word and music or silence – we miss the mark, again, of what Jesus calls “spiritual worship.” I suspect we cannot enter into that experience fully in this life and in this world…

    Finally, for now, I think for all these reasons and more than I can imagine, Jesus calls us to behold him as the temple; to see and to know and to believe that in him is the locus of the encounter between divinity and humanity. This concept was…is at the heart and in the soul of what I sought to say in this homily. And, even when I think I understand it, it remains difficult (impossible?) for me and my sinful and sensate self to actualize it.


    Liked by 1 person

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