A sermon, based on John 2.13-22, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 4, 2018
I begin this morning with an apology. A classic instruction for Christian preachers, whate’er their years in the pulpit, is to proclaim the gospel; the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. That proclamation is not to include exegesis; that historical and contextual interpretive examination of scripture of which the sermon is the fruit. The exegesis, getting the meaning, literally, “out of” (scripture), is to be confined to the preacher’s preparation.
Nevertheless, again, I beg your pardon, for I offer a couple of exegetical points.
The cleansing of the Jerusalem temple is recorded in all four canonical gospel accounts;(1) therefore, indicating its importance to the early church as an act of the ministry of Jesus and giving insight into the mind of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this incident at the end of their narratives of the life of Jesus; John, at the beginning. For John, Jesus’ antagonism of the status quo, leading to the fixation of the authorities, both secular and religious, to rid themselves of this menace to their society, was no slow-to-form-over-time cause and effect, but rather a primary element of Jesus’ prophetic mission. God doesn’t send prophets to be nice or to make nice, then or now, but rather, then and now, to disturb the peace of humans who, in their individual, communal, and institutional conduct, seek to hold God at arm’s length; who abide by their, our self-interested preferences and their, our self-righteous prejudices and not God’s commandments to love God and to love neighbor.
Moreover, Matthew, Mark, and Luke cite fraudulent commerce as the key motive for Jesus cleansing the temple. The money changers employed faulty scales to exchange coins from throughout the Empire for temple currency to pay the temple tax. The sellers inflated their fees for animals for temple sacrifices. This was tantamount to institution-sanctioned thievery, price-gouging the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to fulfill their religious obligations.(2) In John, Jesus, zealous for the purity of the temple, is enraged that it has been made marketplace, whether fraudulent or fair. He then speaks of himself as the temple where the divine-human encounter happens.
Pulling this together, in another place in scripture, the Apostle Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit, God’s indwelling presence and power, who transforms the Christian community and the individual Christian into temples of God’s habitation, God’s residence.(3)
I began begging your indulgence. I close beseeching us to employ our imagination. I bid that we behold Jesus standing in the courtyard of our lives always desiring to drive from us anything and all things that hinder our worship, that inhibit the offering of ourselves in love to God and to all. Under the rubric of Ash Wednesday’s Lenten call to us that we deepen our “self-examination and repentance,”(4) I ask: What are the money changers and animal sellers within you and me – your and my self-interested preferences and self-righteous prejudices – by which we deny, defraud God and all others of our love, thus, of which Jesus would cleanse us?
Illustration: Christ Cleansing the Temple, Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)
Endnote: The sermon title, An Exegetical Apologia, is an intended double-entendre; apologia being employed both in the sense of my contrition for bringing my exegesis into the pulpit and, through that exegesis, my explanation (“to explain” being the original and literal meaning of the Greek word apologia) of the text.
(1) Matthew 21.12-17, Mark 11.15-19, Luke 19.45-48, John 2.13-22
(2) Matthew (21.13), Mark (11.17), and Luke (19.46) all have Jesus, in reference to the prophet Jeremiah’s rebuke, in God’s Name, of the temple leaders of his era (“Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?” Jeremiah 7.11), saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’, but you are making it a den of robbers.”’
(3) 1 Corinthians 3.16, 17b
(4) The Book of Common Prayer, page 265