Revd. David Emmott
Lent 3 – 1 Corinthians 1.18-25, John 2.13-22
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1.18-25
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
It’s tempting to use this passage to have a rant about cathedrals that charge massive fees to enter, or even church bazaars.
That’s another discussion which might be worth having, but it’s not really the point of this story, or why St John decided to tell it at this point in his gospel.
It’s about the Temple. The place of sacrifice. For centuries the Jewish people, just like people of most other religions, used to come here to offer sacrifice. Killing animals and birds in order to placate a God who they believed they had offended by their sin, and would take their life if they didn’t offer something in exchange.
And Jesus was angry. Not just at the extortionate rates the money changers and animal sellers were charging, but at the fact that people still felt they had to come here to offer sacrifices to an angry God.
Because with the coming of Jesus they had no excuse. Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ As John points out, he wan’t talking about the building. The place of sacrifice was no longer the temple, but Jesus himself. He was about to die as the one sacrifice for the whole world.
Some Christians have misinterpreted this to mean, God was still angry with humanity, God was demanding a sacrifice, but instead of punishing us he allowed Jesus to take our place and suffer instead of us.
That it seems to me is blasphemy. Because it is making God out to be something other than the God of love – the God of vengeance. And it’s undermining the truth that God is Trinity, three in one. How can the Father and the Son not be united in the same love?
No longer have we got to earn God’s favour by offering sacrifices. The world, with all its evil and turmoil, is being reshaped in God’s image. And to do that, God takes the burden of evil and sin upon himself in Jesus Christ. And then calls us all to be united in that offering.
Which is the point of what we are doing this morning. Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Mass – they are all different names for the same thing. The way we are enabled to enter into this sacrifice and be transformed by God’s love.
And we need to be reminded of this time and time again. We might not believe in offering sacrifices or killing animals. But every time you hear a politician say ‘there is no alternative’, or ‘this is the way the real world works’, remember that they too are locked into the same dead end of unreality which refuses to believe in God’s love.
This is the point of St Paul’s paradoxical words: ‘God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.’ The so-called wisdom of the world is all about power, about offering sacrifices to inhuman forces like profit, or ‘austerity’, or ideological superiority.
And that is essentially the same as offering sacrifices to a god of wrath. We have to allow God to love us into sharing in his one unique sacrifice, to enter into the true Temple which is Jesus Christ.