If Jesus were an action figure — and he is, you can actually buy one — the action figure appointed for today would be Fight Club Jesus.
Our Gospel text this morning has Jesus entering the temple, kicking out the money changers, and generally raising heck. This is not the meek and mild Jesus, little lamb of God, to whom we’ve grown accustomed. It is a muscular and angry Jesus.
Some have called this story the Cleansing Of The Temple. But it should be called the Closing Of The Temple, because Fight Club Jesus has not come to the temple to help organize the accounting, or rearrange the temple furnishings. He is clear. This temple will be torn down, the sacrifices will stop, and a new temple will rise in its place.
There was another temple before this one. The first temple was built by Solomon. It was the crowning achievement of his career, and when it was finished he prayed and made blessings for Israel; and he even prayed for non-Jews too, asking HaShem to hear their prayers (I Kings 8:41ff). There are lots of stories about how the temple got built and the things that happened there: There’s a legend that angels and demons helped build it. There’s another story, too, that Solomon knew that his temple would be destroyed so he built an underground hiding place for the Ark Of The Covenant. It’s just a story, though. What we do know is that it replaced the tabernacle that the Israelites had been using, and that it was ultimately destroyed in 587 BCE.
Then, of course, there was the Babylonian Captivity. The Jews were divided. After Babylonian King Hammaburi died, though, the Babylonian empire started to wane. There were a few successors, but in 539 BCE Persian King Cyrus The Great came up with an ingenuous plan to easily capture Babylon. What he did is, he had the army re-route the Euphrates River so that it would be easy to cross, and at an opportune time, they waded across the river and under the city wall totally undetected. They claimed to have been able to take the city without force, but history is written by the winners, you know. In any event, it was probably an easy victory for the Zoarastrian Persians who sent the Israelites home.
Cyrus wanted the Israelites to build a temple and re-establish Yahweh worship. This was good for Israel, which now existed as a Yahweh-only zone; and it was good for Persia because it played into their own religious needs. The rebuilding effort was difficult, but in time a new temple emerged. The Second Temple lasted for 420 years and during that time Israel was a client state of Persia, the temple was expanded, and made even more beautiful, and everybody was happy. But it all ended in 70 CE when the second temple was destroyed. Not one stone was left on top of another.
For a long time the Jews thought they’d build another temple. Meetings were held, funds were raised. As recently as last year there was an Indie GoGo campaign to raise funds for the third temple.
And, yet… there is no temple.
Or, is there?
Look, history is fun, but the Bible is not a history book. The temple theology is simple enough if we can get past our love of stories, and our historical, liner, binary (adopted from those Persians) way of thinking. After all the stories, there is the simple fact that the temple is where we find the Holy of Holies, it is where the Spirit Of God lives.
God used to live in a tabernacle. Then God lived in temples made of stone. Finally, God made a temple of flesh and came to live with us. That was Jesus. And Jesus is not here, how well we know. But there is something interesting about that. Jesus may be gone, but he left us here and told us to be like him, to follow his ways.
Humanity – the humanity that Jesus adopted and the humanity that we all share — is the only appropriate temple for God, because we are the ones who are made like God, in God’s image. And when God alone inhabits the temple of our lives, as she used to inhabit the temple in Jerusalem, then there is peace, the still small voice can be heard, and the human, inhabited by divinity, is at last fully human.
We can’t see the third temple, but we know it exists. It is US!
But, look, all is not well. Today’s story tells us that there are money changers in the temples of our lives. We make deals with God and with one another, we hope to come out ahead. There are idols, and meaningless sacrifices. It is endless, isn’t it? The needless sacrifices, the blood, and clatter.
Yet, as utterly soul-crushing as this earth plane is, there is one possible hope: Jesus. He is standing there, weaving together a few cords.
You might not have thought about what happened after Jesus kicked everybody out of the temple that day. I mean, there’s some stuff in the Bible about it, but in the moments immediately after all the shouting, when there was nothing else left, it was quiet. There’s just Jesus. It’s that moment when the aria has ended, but the applause hasn’t started. The money changers and turtledoves are gone and it is utterly silent.
And it’s the same for us, if we allow Jesus to clean house for us. The chatter and squalling which keep us company will be gone; and, in the silence, truth rises. Silence brings truth to the surface quicker than anything, and it’s terrifying. The silence. The truth of our lives.
That is why most of us choose to live with the noise.
In the story the temple gets destroyed anyway.
And that’s OK. The old temple needed to close. There is a new temple, a temple of silence where at last we may worship in spirit and truth, where the still small voice is all there is.
Can you hear it?
Lindy McMillan lives in Shanghai, China
The Image is a replica of what The Second Temple may have looked like after Herod’s renovations. “Second Temple” by Ariely – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons