Jesus “was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body.” (John 2:21)
What happened in today’s Gospel is remarkable and not a little shocking.
It is a little shocking to us, perhaps, because Jesus appears to be angry - he seems to lose his temper. Surely, we suppose, it is wrong to be angry, wrong to lose our tempers. Isn’t Gentle Jesus supposed to be Meak and Mild? And free from sin? Yet one of the many sins we may feel called to confess in this time of Lent, surely is anger.
Of course, we might rationalise a little - he doesn’t lose his temper. He isn’t even really angry - this is enthusiasm, or zeal, or what we might call righteous anger, because he is protesting against something which is wrong and unjust - trading in the temple, exploiting the poor …
Yet it is even more shocking than that. Even if Jesus is right to complain about the traders in temple, it seems an extreme act. After all, they were only providing the things that were need to perform the rituals and sacrifices (not so very different from selling Bibles or Rosaries). And while he may be speaking about the Temple being a place of prayer, turning over tables and shouting protests seems an odd way to do so. A bit like talking loudly at the back of the Church about how awful it is that people show so little respect nowadays. His actions cause great offence to the religious leaders of the time.
Yet, we might argue that this was little more than a symbolic act, rather than a real act of disruption. The Temple was vast, and its courts exensive. The market took place in the outer court. And It had its own police force, the Temple guards. So a bit of a protest in one part might be hardly noticed in another. No, we could argue, Jesus is making a point - but not defiling the sanctuary.
Yet perhaps the most shocking detail, is not what Jesus does, but what he says.
We need to understand that for the Jewish people of time, and to an extent still today, the Temple mount and the Temple itself is not just the central place of worship, but the only place where the fulness of worship can take place. Only here, in the sanctuary, could the sacrifices be performed. Here, to this very day, the Jews gather at the “Weeping Wall” - the only wall which remains from the old temple - to lament the sufferings of their people. The Synagogue became a place of prayer, and study and preaching, but the Temple was the only place where the fullness of Jewish worship and sacrifices, (described in great detail in what we call the Old Testament), could take place, and once that was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, these liturgies, rites and cermonies passed into history.
So, When Jesus speaks about the destruction and the rebuilding of the Temple, Jesus takes the extraordinary step of sweeping away the temple itself. This is surely, for the Jews, is a great blasphemy, much worse than a protest or a little dsiruption. It is clear from the Gospel stories this sets in train the campaign to remove Jesus, the plot which leads us to Holy Week and Easter.
Suddenly, in a phrase, just a few words, and words which perplexed all his listeners, words which even his followers would remember but not understand until much later, he tells us that the God is present not in the Old Temple, but in the very Body of Christ himself. No longer is worship to be in Temple which had been built by Herod the Great, no longer is God present only in the sanctuary which had been established on mount Zion by King David, now God is fully and truly present in a human being, in God become man, in the person of Jesus Christ.
And so we are taken in an instant from the temple mount to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane and to the Empty Tomb. Here, Christ points us already towards Maundy Thursday, the gift of his Body and Blood, Good Friday, the sacrifice of his body on the Cross, and Easter Day, the rising of his Body to eternal life on the Third Day - the risen body which becomes the true sanctuary, the object of worship.
God is no longer only in the temple, or only to be found in any other building - rather it is in the Body which is his Church, and the sacrament of his Body, and in the community which gathers together, in the Church understood as poeple not as Archetecture, where God dwells amongst us, and where we meet him, in the risen Christ.