Signpost for Sunday 8th March 2015, Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22.
The cleansing of the Temple, as the story is commonly known, hardly tells of a gentle Jesus, meek and mild. At one end of the spectrum of understanding we can ask whether the supposedly sinless man actually lost his temper, or does this count as righteous anger? At the other end we can struggle with an enacted, subversive parable, a declaration that the Kingdom is among you, the Temple has had its day, follow me!
We all know that John puts the story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry whilst the other Gospellers have it at the beginning of Holy Week. But then John’s Gospel is different in other ways – no temptations in the wilderness, no overt institution of the Eucharist, the last supper itself a day early – the emphasis always on love. In John, the story follows hard on the heels of the first recorded miracle. With great compassion, at a time of need, Jesus changed six enormous jars containing water intended for the Jewish rites of purification into jars of the very best wine.
The Temple, the epicentre of the Jewish purification laws, which were divisive and exclusive, had failed to be “my Father’s house” and become a “den of robbers”. How much better the way of Jesus, the way of justice, compassion and love, the very best wine.
Do you share the frisson that I experience when I hear the insightful words in our own New Zealand Liturgy of Thanksgiving and Praise – “Praise and glory to Christ, God’s new beginning for humanity, making ritual water gospel wine, cleansing all our worship”?
Writing a Signpost article necessarily involves a closer than usual reading of the lectionary readings, and there’s usually a bonus. In the Old Testament reading I came across a reminder – though I can’t really say that I ever knew it – that the ‘keep the Sabbath’ commandment in Exodus cites the creation story whereas the Deuteronomy version (5:12) relies on the exodus itself. Trivia perhaps, but I love that sort of thing.
As for Psalm 19 – CS Lewis calls it “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world”. Reading what Lewis says about it is a poem in itself – it’s worth making the effort to track down “Reflections on the Psalms”.