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A Reflection for the Third Sunday in Lent

Lent is the great spring-cleaning of the Christian life. It is the traditional season of prayer and fasting in preparation for the great "Feast of Feasts," Easter. The word Lent is derived from a Saxon word meaning "spring." In the early church, Lent was viewed as a spiritual spring, a time of light and joy in the renewal of the soul's life. It represented a return to a life in which God was once more center and source... (Thompson, 73).

Speaking of cleaning, I am not at all pleased with the performance of the woman whose job it is to clean my house. She doesn't show up every day, and when she does, often she has an excuse—"I'm too tired. I'll do it tomorrow. I'll do it this weekend." Sometimes she neglects to sweep the kitchen floor before she mops it. I caught her smearing coffee grounds around the tile with a mop the other day. I caught her spraying lemon pledge in the air like air freshener to give the impression that she had just dusted. I discovered her sweeping the carpeted stairs with a broom to make lines that looked like she'd vacuumed them. I don't know quite how to handle this personnel problem.

How can I let her go when she is me?

Every week or so, a large postcard comes in the mail. It's purple, or yellow, or green, and it's from a charitable organization that proclaims, "We need your discards. We accept clothes, shoes, books, CDs, DVDs, and small appliances." There are instructions to either call a number or put bags of items on the front step on a certain date. In fact, I do have some discards. The pair of black slacks that just never fit right. The computer monitor and printer in the guestroom closet. The peach-colored prom dress from our daughter's high school days. The extensive collection of mismatched coffee mugs that are overflowing the kitchen cabinet. The floor lamp that doesn't work because someone ripped the cord off it while moving it to clean the carpets. And on and on...

Lent is a season that creates a yearning in us to clean our house and to clean our souls.

The common assumption about this Sunday's passage in John 2:13-22 is that Jesus was cleansing the temple of commercial abuse. But the animals and the money changers had a right to be there. The animals were there because of the Torah's requirement of sacrifice. The moneychangers were there to change pilgrims' money into the coinage the Temple could receive to purchase sacrifices and also for the payment of the half-shekel tax levied on all Jews. In John's gospel, Jesus is not cleansing the Temple from commercial abuse by the money changers. He is making a statement that their efforts are no longer necessary. Jesus' "disruption of one of the most significant feasts of the year is a symbolic action that temporarily bring to a halt the sacrificial system understood to be ordained by God in the law" (Lincoln, 137)…

It's not that what the moneychangers were doing was wrong, but what they were doing would no longer be necessary in the new order Jesus had come to bring. This passage, says John scholar Andrew Lincoln, "looks forward to the Day of the Lord and to God's presence in a renewed Jerusalem. At that time all nations will keep the Feast of Tabernacles and there will be no need for traders in the house of the Lord. The trading associated with the sacrificial system will not be necessary, because in the end-time worship of Yahweh as king all aspects of life will have become sacred" (Lincoln, 138).

In that time, we will have a new temple, Jesus' crucified and resurrected body. John 2: 18-21 connects the Temple with Jesus' crucified and resurrected body, which has become our new Temple. "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up," says Jesus. John uses the verb eyeiro—"to raise up"—rather than Mark and Matthew's "oikodomeo"—to build or rebuild (Lincoln 139).

I mentioned at the outset that I am not at all pleased with the performance of the woman whose job it is to clean my house. But after studying this passage, rather than judge her and her superficial cleaning methods, I think I'll get her some help. Clearly, she needs the help of someone who knows how to deep clean a house. She needs Jesus Christ to create in her a clean heart and to put a new and right spirit within her.

We do well to echo the words of penitent King David during the remaining days of Lent: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean," says David in Psalm 51:7. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (51:10).

Sources Consulted Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson The Gospel According to Saint John, Andrew T. Lincoln

From Spring Cleaning: Reflections on John 2:13-22

by Dr. Alyce McKenzie                                                                                               Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.


Pastor Mark

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