Rev'd Philip Heak
What impressive buildings have you visited? Perhaps Dublin Castle, Christchurch cathedral, St Patrick’s cathedral – or further afield, the Sagriada de famillia or the World trade Centre,
For me it was Egyptian temples especially, Luxor and Isis.
The setting of our Gospel reading today is at the temple in Jerusalem.
You can see here a magnificent model of the temple and Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.
As you can see it was a massive structure.
Normally a city of 100 to 200 thousand people, three times a year on the pilgrim festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Jerusalem’s population swelled to 1 million souls.
On these occasions this small ancient city had to cope not only with the throng of people but also their sacrificial animals and offerings, necessitating temporary increases in food supplies, accommodation, ritual bathing facilities, and all aspects of commerce.
The temple was not some sort of quiet cathedral. It was a place of meeting and hustle and bustle.
On their arrival pilgrims could hear the sounds of the Levites who sang and played musical instruments at the entrance.
The pilgrims would circle around the Temple seven times and then watch the various rituals, sit under the columned porticos that surrounded the plaza and listen or talk to the rabbis.
The Temple area was divided into various areas for study, sacrifices, libation etc. and further divided according to a social hierarchy for gentiles, women, Israelites, Levites and Priests.
It is into this magnificent, inspiring building that we find Jesus in the scene of our reading today.
In John’s Gospel, at the start of his ministry, Jesus enters the temple courts and in a memorable act of drama, he drives out the moneychangers and animals.
The cleansing of the temple sets the scene for much of Jesus’ ministry. Someone who stands against exploitation. It sets him up immediately against the religious establishment, that would eventually lead to his arrest and charge of blasphemy and execution.
It’s fairly straightforward to see the connection between Jesus’ actions and as to why the religious authorities would want him safely put out of the way.
That is one interpretation, and to be fair it makes sense. However, as always with Jesus there is a lot more to his actions, than what we can take at face value. Lets look at the context.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus first sign which precedes the cleansing of the temple is the turning of water into wine – This was more than a party trick. Jesus had the old and empty water purification jars filled with water.
The transformation into wine, was a sign that Jesus was initiating something new and radical.
After the cleansing of the temple, Jesus has the visit from Nicodemus and he tells Nicodemus that nothing short of being born from above, will enable someone to enter the Kingdom of God.
Empty jars are filled, People are given new birth, the temple is cleared. There has got to be a connection.
John 2.24 is almost a throwaway line but very important to help us understand what is happening “Jesus knew what was in men.”
In other words, Jesus knew what was in the heart of men.
Jesus knew what was in all men.
What is the Heart of people?
“Heart” does not mean the emotions (though it includes our emotions). It refers to our inner orientation, the core of our being. This kind of “heart” is what Jesus was referring to when he told us to store up treasures in heaven instead of on earth, “for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:21) This is the “heart” Jesus was worried about when he said “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” (Matthew 15:19)
This is the ancient meaning of “heart” in biblical usage, but we actually retain traces of this meaning in contemporary English. When we say to someone “my heart goes out to you,” we mean something more than a feeling of concern. If said sincerely, it communicates a sense of solidarity with someone. It means more than “I understand” (our intellect). It means more than “I sympathize” (our feelings). It means something like, “I stand with you in this.” It is an expression of a fundamental choice.
The cleansing of the temple by Jesus, takes a whole new perspective, when we think of it as being to do with the heart of people.
Lets look at the story of the cleansing of the temple from a HEART perspective.
1: Temple complex
At the heart of the temple is the tabernacle, the holiest of holies. God is at the heart of the temple…. At the time of Jesus, the temple was at the heart of Judaism. It was the only place where sacrifice could be offered. It was a magnificent symbol of God who had chosen to be with his people.
At the centre of the Temple was the holy of holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple where the ark of the Law was kept. It was the holiest place in Judaism. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter this inner sanctum, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
So strict was the law governing entry to the holy of holies that the High Priest had to wear a belt around his waist so that in case of his unexpected death he could be pulled out without anyone else entering.
2: What lies outside the Holy of Holies?
Walls – to keep people out, they could see the tabernacle, but they could not enter. They could only circle outside. And within the outer courts was where you would find the Money changers, merchants, exploitation… In other words outside of the Holy of Holies is what Jesus drives away.
3: Lets take this further.
Imagine that the temple is your heart. At the centre of your heart is a space for God. This is the heart where Jesus tells us to store up our treasures.
However, outside of that, there are numerous barriers, set up that prevent us from reaching that central God place.
We can guess what those barriers are?
Fear, guilt, self-doubt, hurtful experiences, lack of healing, anger, jealousy, wrong thoughts, wrong actions.
All of those and more, build up barriers that stop us connecting with the space in our hearts that God has reserved for himself.
The problem is that in the hustle and bustle of life, we very seldom have a chance to identify those barriers that are set up around our hearts. That’s why it is so important to take a little bit of space each day for yourself, a little bit of space for Godly pursuits.
It is into this heart space, into this temple that – Jesus enters. Empty water jars are filled, we are born again from above. Jesus drives away the barriers and we are left with a new indestructible temple. The temple of Christ’s body.
When Jesus, cleanses the temple, it points towards him cleansing our hearts. This is no Jesus meek and mild, he does not simply say “Please leave” He binds a whip of chords and drives the impure out.
No longer are people to be separated from the heart of God, by temple walls, barriers and ineffectual sacrifice.
Christ himself becomes an indefilable everlasting temple, through whom we reach the heart of God.
It takes the power of God to do that.
So, how is your heart today.
Remember that at the centre of your heart is a space for God. A temple of the Holy Spirit.
If you are like me, you will have many barriers to opening up that space that we may store our treasures in Heaven. The only way for those barriers to be broken down, is through the power of God and the eternal temple of Jesus Christ, the only one who truly know what is in the heart of people.
“After he was raised from the dead, the disciples realised what he had meant.”
Jesus knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.