In John's Gospel, as opposed to in the three Synoptics, Jesus displays his anger in the Temple at the very beginning of his public ministry. He enters that place in today's reading and we hear that "he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers" were all around doing business. He chases them all out, scaring the sheep and cattle with a whip he made of cords, and with harsh words chases the money changers and dove sellers out of the Temple...... Quite an entrance into Jerusalem society.
Jesus was so p-o'ed upon entering that main place of worship because the holiness was being robbed of the place because of the marketplace atmosphere created by those who were cheapening the concept of sacrifice involved in worshipping at the Temple. Sacrifice is something that is not supposed to be easy. To sacrifice something is supposed to tear at our very root of understanding and being. Remember the oft-heard scriptural verse: "rend your hearts and not your garments." These business people in the entrance chamber to the Temple were allowing people to make a show of their faith, without really living it, feeling it.
And this is why this reading is such a perfect one to have in our first week of Lent. Many of us "give something up" or "take something on" for Lent. We are challenged by this Gospel to ask ourselves if we are doing this for show? Are we tearing at our garments without touching our hearts? Is what we have taken on, or given up, really touching our deep, inner selves? Is this sacrifice "hard"?.....Why do we need this sacrificial piece as part of our Lenten journey?
Just as the Last Sunday of Epiphany always has a Transformation Gospel at its center (where Jesus transforms on the mountain in front of Peter, James and John, while having a conversation with Moses and Elijah), this Gospel account of Jesus cleansing the Temple is a reminder that we are called to be transformed in Lent, to feel something deep within ourselves and be changed. Not easy. Sacrifice is not supposed to be easy. But we are better people for that change which occurs when we really live into a hope-filled, and yet difficult, Lent.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.