The Gospel lesson for the third Sunday in Lent is the John 2:13-22, the narrative known as the “cleansing of the temple.” Found in all four Gospels, John places it early in the Fourth Gospel to express a critical new insight: Jesus is the place where people meet God. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he proclaimed. Without understanding the religious leaders respond: “Why this temple has been under construction for 46 years . . . and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
This theme is interlaced throughout the Johannine narrative. In the first chapter, the Word who was God is now pitching a tent, making a dwelling among us. Later, as the first disciples are gathered, Jesus says to Nathaniel: “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (the Human One) 1:49-51—an echo of Jacob’s dream. The text discloses that “Jesus is himself Bethel,” the house of God, in the words of Gordon Lathrop. In chapter 4 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the time is coming when worship of the Abba will occur neither there or in Jerusalem—but in Spirit and truth. Chapter 7 continues the theme as Jesus describes the water which will flow from this new temple to water the wilderness in the form of the Spirit (37-39).
Simply put, the need for the temple as it has functioned is passing away. It will not be a place for sacrifice; that will end. It will not be a place of exclusion for women and Gentiles; the whole people of God will be the place of divine habitation. Jerusalem will no longer be privileged as necessary to experience the presence of the holy, for God abides as Holy Spirit.
Jesus shares his vocation as the dwelling of God with his disciples, then and now. Varied New Testament writers seek to grasp this insight through the language of the “Body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12: 27), a “holy temple” (Ephesians 2:21), and “living stones” built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4).
In last week’s Christian Century, Christine Pohl suggests four practices that form congregations in their vocation as the “dwelling of God.” These are
1. Expressing gratitude
2. Keeping promises
3. Living truthfully
4. Offering hospitality
Following these patterns, churches welcome persons to encounter the living Christ, through the Spirit, to the glory of God. And God will dwell in the midst of God’s own.
Molly T. Marshall
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