A Spiritual Stocktake

3 Mar, 2024

By the Rev’d Kim Parker

Season: Third Sunday in Lent

Readings: Exodus 20:1-17 | 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 | John 2:13-22

The popular image of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” takes a bit of a hammering in today’s gospel reading, don’t you agree? The story of Jesus losing his cool in the temple appears in all four gospels. In the other three, it comes near the end, the week before Jesus is crucified, but in John’s gospel this morning, it is near the beginning of John, in the second chapter. This is one of the first pictures of Jesus that John gives us and it is confronting because this happens before Jesus has run into any trouble with the religious or civil authorities. Jesus is still very popular with everyone who has had the good fortune to meet him but this morning we hear how he flies into a loud rage and sets about destroying the forecourt of the Jerusalem temple.

The temple in Jerusalem was the place where people went to worship, to meet with God and in today’s gospel this event took place at the time of the Passover. At that time, thousands of people endeavoured to make it to the temple to celebrate what God had done for them. Like us, they turn up to meet with God, to praise God alongside their religious leaders. Similarly we come to church where there are priests and preachers here alongside us to meet with God.  It may seem like an odd comparison to make but the merchants who were plying their wares at the temple were doing the same thing as the leaders – helping people to meet with God – providing a much needed service for the worshippers. Moneychangers were an important part of temple life as you couldn’t put Roman coins in the temple offering box which was for the “temple tax.” The money had to be Jerusalem shekels. After travelling a long way from their towns people who were arriving at the temple needed this service to change their money into the local currency.[1] 

Likewise, savvy business-minded farmers set up stands with grain to be sold for grain offerings and livestock for sacrifices.  This service meant that people who had travelled vast distances didn’t have to risk losing their livestock along the way, or, if their animals survived the journey they may well have become blemished which was not acceptable for the purposes of sacrifice. So instead the pilgrims could sell a cow at home and bring the money with them to buy whatever offerings they needed such as that unblemished lamb, bullock, pigeon or grain which scripture deemed necessary.

It was all there at the temple; imagine the hustle and bustle of trade. It is not hard to visualise how this market would have been a vital part of the local economy and the social interactions that it provided. The service of supplying the worshippers with what they needed to fulfil their worship requirements of course was a way to make a bit of extra money as the merchants most likely saw themselves as what we now call  “an essential service.” This was a great opportunity to “price hike” as there were overheads involved such as coming to the customer at the temple, helping people to meet with God so as to worship appropriately by supplying the much needed pre prescribed items for sacrifice. There was also a bit of price gouging going on and Mark refers to this in Chapter 11 “You have made the temple a den of robbers.”  

When Jesus entered the temple, he discovered that appearances were deceiving, and he was outraged. While the market was apparently fulfilling its function “filling the pews” with worshippers who were correctly prepared so as to participate in worship,  Jesus reveals by his actions that the whole purpose of worship has been forgotten and the trappings of the marketplace were an obstacle for being in a “right relationship with God.” Jesus left no tables unturned and no one untouched. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s House a marketplace!  Jesus challenges the status quo and has the attention of the people. 

The difficult part of this for us to face up to is what it is that Jesus is actually attacking and protesting against. If he’d come in raging about the ten commandments that might be easier to understand. If he’d attacked the thieves for their stealing, the adulterers for their adultery that would also be easier to understand or perhaps attacking the Pharisees for their legalism, the Sadducees for their snobbishness, or even he soldiers for their violence.  However, that day in the temple, he didn’t mention any of those things. Jesus attacks worshippers for their worship. He denounces the religious for their religion. This is not an attack on the non-believers in the world. This is an attack or a protest on those who worship God. 

Similarly today just like the temple in Jerusalem which was overrun with merchants and money changers our society is inundated with commercialised versions of spirituality. From prosperity gospel preachers and church leaders who benefit from the “offerings” of the faithful which support their lavish lifestyles or those who ply their commercialised merchandise which are adorned with religious symbols.  The marketplace of religion is thriving.   

This morning we are given a wake up call from Jesus by his uncharacteristic show of anger by cleansing the temple as a protest challenging the status quo.  Suddenly the worshippers at the temple are held accountable for their practices and they are being challenged. The practices they had become comfortable with which were essentially the commodification of faith in the market place driven by them the consumers. This is the issue for Jesus.

Authentic worship is not about outward appearances or religious rituals; it’s about genuine devotion and intimacy with God. It’s about coming before God with open hearts and humble spirits, ready to encounter the presence of the Divine.

We live in a time where our lives are often consumed by distractions and busyness, leaving little room for spiritual growth, but just as Jesus cleansed the physical temple, he desires to cleanse the temple of our bodies and souls as well. In this time of Lent we may well be looking for ways to be more mindful of creating intentional spaces and practices that will enrich our relationship with our Triune God and so it may well be time to clear out our own temples. A bit of decluttering and re-centering could be the re-energising that our spiritual life needs. There is nothing like a good clean-out and stocktake to remind us of what is important and the little we actually do need. 

This time of Lent is a time to hear Jesus calling us to a place of integrity and to remember God’s original purpose in our lives.
Carolyn Bingham reminds us that “when the Holy Spirit came to dwell among God’s people, each one of us became a temple. Our own personal temples are to be houses of prayer—built by God  so that we might serve and worship our Creator.”[2] But sadly, we forget this. All too often, we lose touch with God’s original purpose for our lives. And just when we get comfortable with how things are, Jesus comes in and shakes things up. He drives out the complacency that has taken up residence in our hearts, and he reminds us that God has better things for us than that. As we reflect on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, let us rediscover the gift of worship in our busy world that is so full of temptations and distractions that don’t enhance our worship lives. May we confront the commercialisation of faith, advocate for social justice, and cultivate intimacy with God in our daily lives seeking to live out the radical love of Christ in our lives, our communities and beyond.[3]


[1] Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 2

[2] Carol Bingham, Understanding God’s View of Justice.

[3] The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2021

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