Reflection for Sunday – March 3, 2024

Readings: Exodus 20: 1-17; 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25; John 2:13-25 
Preacher: Margot Van Etten

Are you surprised to hear this reading today? It’s halfway through Lent: why are we focusing on something we hear about during Holy Week?

Actually, John, whose Gospel we hear today, does not set this during Holy Week. It happens near the beginning. So perhaps looking at it now can help us think in a different way about the rest of Lent. Recharge it a little.

Like the prophets before him, Jesus does not confine himself to words. In a dramatic, physical enactment of Divine wrath, he stages a small riot and drives the sellers of sacred animals and the money changers out of the Temple.

Why is he so upset?

His words— “stop making my father’s house a marketplace”—point to a perversion. In the Temple Court of the Gentiles—the only place in the Temple where non-Jews who believe in the God of Israel can approach and worship—money changes hands, animals bleat and moo. The place for “all the nations to come and worship” has essentially become a strip mall.

It may seem a matter of simple convenience. Pagan (Roman) money can’t be used: it must be Temple coins (for a fee). Not everyone is able to bring an animal on the long journey: sacrificial animals are provided (for a fee). Animals that were brought on the long journey might be “blemished” from the trip, so a “perfect” animal must replace it (for a fee). This used to happen on the street outside the Temple grounds, but the High Priest’s administration brought this profitable business into the Temple itself. Entrepreneurial genius trumps sanctity.

No wonder the Temple authorities are enraged by Jesus.

This seals Jesus’ fate as far as they are concerned.

But why look at this now?

Can this story inspire us in any way?

In John’s telling, Jesus isn’t condemning a “den of thieves” for cheating pilgrims. No. Here Jesus’ outrage comes from a marketplace taking over the place where people are meant to approach God.  It’s a Temple, not a mall.

And Christians, collectively and individually are a temple. Each of us is a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit of God. We are called to the powerful practice of paying attention to that Presence within us that dwells at the core of who we truly are.

So perhaps Jesus would ask us what crowds out our ability to notice that Presence? What distracts us from the stillness of that inner sanctuary where all love, wholeness and holiness is to be found?

Here’s a great question for Lent: What really fills my mind? What do I obsess about? What rolls around in my head when I am not focused on something specific like work or the task at hand? What keeps popping up?

Do I wake up after an hour of mindless scrolling on Facebook, wondering where the time has gone? Do I continually churn over the news? How much time and mindspace do I spend on retail therapy? Do I wish I could donate to some charity if I had a little more money? Is it hard to find time for prayer, to volunteer, or to just be quiet in Nature or a sacred space and  let the silence open my heart to God? Could it be that the temple of my mind has been colonized by the “marketplace”?

Perhaps instead of giving up chocolate or eating fish on Friday we could fast from whatever takes up our mental, emotional or spiritual bandwidth.

For this reason, some of my friends are fasting from Facebook, pausing social media, or limiting the news they pay attention to, in order to create more space for God. Others are practicing No-Spend Lent—other than food and household necessities, no buying, shopping, leafing through catalogues or websites or wandering around on Amazon. And we’ve all been amazed at how much space opens up. How freeing it is. How much room it leaves for us to pray, to focus on things that nourish the spirit. 

And that’s the point of Lent—to open up space for God. To get free of the mental, emotional and spiritual debris that clutters up our life. To clear space in the temple of our hearts.

Perhaps this Gospel can recharge our Lent. And our lives.

Margot VanEtten
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