Sunday, March 08, 2015

Sermon; Lent 3B; John 2:13-22

There is a difference between facts and truth.  Facts are verifiable and quantifiable.  Facts can point to truth, but facts can also hide the truth.  As a quick example, in my generic marriage sermon, I say something to the effect of, “1 + 1 does not equal 2; 1 + 1 equals 3.”  The fact we all know is that 1+1 = 2.  But that hides the truth that, in a marriage, two people are coming together (1+1) and creating a space for not only themselves (2) but for the marriage (3).  There is a difference between facts and truth.

Getting back to the gospel, the fact is that Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and drove them out of the temple.  In the synoptics (Matthew, Mark & Luke), this event happens toward the end of the gospel story.  And in those gospels this is THE EVENT that caused the leaders to begin looking for ways to eliminate Jesus.

John, however, wants to use facts in different ways to point to larger truths, so he rearranges things to fit his story.  John moves this story from the end of Jesus' ministry to the beginning.  John is less concerned with the facts of when than he is with the truth of why.  One of the truths John points to by putting this incident up front is that, like the words of the old spiritual song, the Lord's gonna trouble the waters.  John gets right to the point:  following Jesus means encountering challenging times.

Another truth John is pointing to here is the authority of Jesus.  Jesus cleanses the temple because, as God incarnate, he has the authority to change the place and focus of worship.  As he will tell the woman at the well in a couple of chapters, “The hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

According to John, Jesus has the authority to move the dwelling place of God from the temple to the body, and the body of Jesus is the new temple.  And it is the words of Jesus that consistently refer to the truth of who he is.

The truth John points to is that Jesus is God incarnate.  The truth John points to is that Jesus is showing the people a new new way of seeing God.  The truth John points to is that our relationship with God is more than a business transaction.  The truth John points to is that, in following Jesus, existing systems will be overturned.

In John, the facts of Jesus cleansing the temple point to those various truths I mentioned.  But I also said that not only can facts point to truth, by can also hide truth.

The first instance of this comes in the placement of this story.  As I said, Matthew, Mark and Luke have this event take place shortly after Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, what we now call Palm Sunday.  In our current time of caring about facts, or in peoples' desire to debunk Scripture, this fact of an intentionally misplaced story can hide the truth of what John is trying to get at.

A second instance comes in Jesus' words to the money changers.  We are used to hearing Jesus say, “You have turned my Father's house into a den of robbers,” or thieves or something along those lines.  But John uses the term, “marketplace.”  This word creates a different image for us.  Instead of money changers out to swindle the people and turn a tidy profit (like the money changers Joelene and I saw in Prague), this gives us an image of people participating in an open market.  Again I'm picturing the main square in Prague in front of the cathedrals of St. Nicholas or Our Lady before Tyn, with all kinds of vendors, food stalls and entertainers bustling around.

And at the temple, that may have been factually true.  But it can also hide a deeper truth of what John is getting at.  How do we see God and Church in our lives?  A larger truth is that we should see God and Church not as commodities to be sold and purchased on the open market, but as part and parcel of who we are.

A third instance comes in the discussion of the temple.  Facts are verifiable and quantifiable.  Facts are those things which we can see.  In the case of the temple, how people had always talked about the temple clouded their vision.  The temple is this building around us.  The temple has taken 46 years to build, and parts of it are still under construction.  Facts tell us this is where we have always, and will always, worship.

But John is going for a larger truth.  For John, the truth is that the temple is not made with human hands.  The truth is that the body of Jesus is the new temple.  “Destroy this temple,” reveals the truth that those to whom he was talking to would set in motion the earthly destruction of Jesus.

And, of course, there is the ultimate truth John points to in the resurrection.

Facts and truth.  Sometimes we can get so hung up on ensuring all the facts are correct that we miss the larger gospel truths.  As you journey through Lent, may you focus less on the fact of your discipline and more on the greater truth that might be hiding from you.



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