The Third Sunday in Lent
4 March 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Exodus 20, 1-17 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 1, 22-25 + John 2, 13-25
We are accustomed to think of this scene as the last act of conflict that moves Jesus into his passion. That is because Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this incident at the conclusion of the ministry and journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. For them, this is the set-up for the violent reaction of the authorities. But today, we hear John’s version of this incident, and it is only the second chapter of John’s Gospel. Something different is going on. This is about authority and identity. For the other Gospel writers, that is settled by a Baptism and voices. Here it is settled by the voice of Jesus who says: “My father’s house”. It is a claim that sparks a dialogue as the “Jews” perceive that this dramatic temple act is a claim for his authority to represent God. They want a sign to validate that authority. In his response, Jesus speaks of his resurrection as the sign. In fact, John makes this clear in his Gospel by using the verb “raise up” rather than “rebuild”. Jesus talks about his body. They talk about a building. Here, the dialogue breaks down, and there is shift of attention to the disciples as the narrator takes over.
This is where we must find ourselves today. The narrator goes on to tells us that many came to believe because they could see the signs he was performing. In John’s Gospel belief based on signs or “miracles” alone rather than on the true reality pointed to by those miracles is inferior. Jesus will not entrust himself to these half-hearted believers. Something more is asked of us, something greater and stronger. As John’s Gospel unfolds, the way is now open to Nicodemus who appears in the next chapter and next Sunday as someone open to Jesus but not yet ready to affirm full belief in him.
Our faith today may not rest on signs and wonders. If it does, we shall drift helplessly away from him, because he will not “trust himself to us” in his own words. Our faith must rest upon the love of God that he has revealed, upon the hope we have in the power of life over death, and the desire of God to embrace us all in his mercy. As that temple in Jerusalem was once the gathering place of God’s people and the dwelling place of God, a new temple has been raised up. For by the time John wrote this Gospel, that Jerusalem temple was a smoking pile of rubble. By the time John wrote this Gospel, Jesus Christ had been raised up, and now, through him, with him, and in him all people give thanks, praise and glory for God lives in us, in his church. Like Nicodemus and the disciples, it takes time to come to this faith. It takes the Holy Spirit, and a desire to make Jesus Christ for us what the temple was for all those Jews, the center of their lives, a sign of God’s presence, and the place where all faithful hearts longed to find rest and peace.