‘So Jesus found some rope and made it into a whip. Then he drove out every one of them with their cattle and sheep from the courtyard of the Temple, and he kicked over their tables filled with money, scattering it everywhere! And he shouted at the pigeon-sellers, “Get these things out of here!” (John 2:15-16) In effect, what Jesus did here was to shut down the Temple. For, without sacrifices, the Temple was unable to function as a place of covenant renewal and reconciliation between God and Israel. Understandably, the Temple authorities are upset. So they ask him, "What sign can you give to justify this?” (John 2:18) In asking for a ‘sign,’ they were asking him to present his credentials; they suspect they are not dealing with some hooligan, or with someone who is emotionally unstable, but rather with a heaven-sent prophet. They would have done better to have pondered the sign he had given them, and so perhaps to have ‘remembered’ the words (C.f.: John 2:17) of the Prophet Zechariah: “There will no longer be any merchants in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” (Zechariah 14:21) They might have then realised that there is one greater than a Prophet here. (C.f.: Matthew 12:39-41)

The Prophet Zechariah’s words point to the end-time when God himself would be present in Jerusalem as its King — a time when reconciling sacrifices in some Temple would no longer be necessary, for God would be with them. And as Jesus put it to the Samaritan woman: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … [For] the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:21-23) With his ‘cleansing of the Temple’ Jesus is ushering in this hour. In his prophecy, Zechariah was pointing to a time when it would no longer be necessary to go to the Jerusalem Temple to worship God, a time when any would be able to worship where they are — a time when once again everyone would be able to worship as Jacob did when he realised that God was in the place where he was (c.f.: John 4:6, 12), when in a dream he saw ‘a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching up to heaven, and on which the angels of God were ascending and descending.’ At the top of this ladder was God who spoke to him. When he awoke he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it. … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17) ‘In the morning,’ we are told, ‘he took the stone he had used for his pillow and stood it up as a memorial pillar and poured oil over it. He christened the place Bethel (God’s House).’ (Genesis 28:18-19) That we might be able to worship God in this place is in the promise given to Nathanael when Jesus called him to follow him: “Before this is over you’re going to see heaven open and God’s angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again.” (John 1::51) Jesus himself is to be the new Temple of the Lord, the new place where heaven and earth are joined and where the Lord’s voice can be heard — a truth found in the enigmatic answer he gave to the Temple authorities when they asked for a sign: “Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) For in his Resurrection, after his crucifixion when they did destroy ‘the sanctuary that was his body’ (John 2:21), the new Temple was raised again in three days.

In my own wrestling with God on my own journey (c.f.: Genesis 32:26), when I came to realise that the Incarnation is not so much about Jesus back there then as about Christ here now, I said to Lord, “Well, if you are here, where are you?” The only answer I ever received back was: “Wherever two or three come together in my name, I am right there with them!” And so my journey brought me back to the monastery, for we here gather in Jesus’ name. Previously I did not especially know the Lord to be here in this place; now I can join with Jacob in his wonderment: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Today we celebrate the Blessing of our Church, but in fact the Church we bless is the new Temple that has been raised up here, built of ‘living stones,’ which are ourselves, and with Christ as the living stone at the head of the corner, and built as ‘a spiritual house, for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ,’ as St Peter has it (1 Peter 2:4-6), that is, for that kind of worship that God our Father is looking for. How awesome is this place where two or three gather in Jesus’ name !

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO