“The Living Silence”
Jesus enters the temple during high season of Passover. This was their big celebration of the year, but Jesus does not like what he sees. In an outer courtyard, nearing the temple building, the space has been turned into a grand marketplace –A last stop shop for all your needs. The money changers provided the silver coin needed to pay the temple tax. The temple only accepted the one coin. As the coin was purchased the money changers always made a profit, exchange rates, capital expenses, salary and such. Across from them were animals for use as sacrifices. Everyone needed something to accomplish their reason for coming in the first place –The noise, the bargaining, the smells, the crowds.
From here Jesus retreats. He makes a whip of cords. Then Jesus returns and he begins herding the sheep and the cattle out, and as the money changers probably were not moving fast enough, he flips over the tables of the money changers. Perhaps the coinage and profit making was particularly odious to Jesus sensibilities. Can’t you just hear the sounds of coins scattering and rolling across the stone surface area? I wonder if in the chaos people weren’t helping themselves to the loose change. Jesus shoos the sellers of pigeons and doves along with their merchandise away as well.
Then he gets into an argument with those around him. People ask him by what right does he do these things? “What Sign can you show for doing this?” Jesus replies, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” His challengers thought this to be absurd. “This temple has been under construction of 46 years, and will you raise it up in three days?” but the truth is that they were simply missing the point or more likely they were not interested in the point Jesus was making. For as we know Jesus was speaking of his own body.
Jesus did not quickly leave. After bringing the money-making ways of the religious leaders to at least a momentary stop in one small area of the larger temple complex, John tells us that he instructed the people to stop making my father’s house a marketplace. Now the other gospels go a bit deeper, and I find the additional information helpful. In Mark’s gospel Jesus says, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
It turns out that these sayings are drawn from two separate scriptures in the Old Testament. One text is from Isaiah 56:7-8 which states, “these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus, says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”
Here the purpose and reason for the temple of God is seen. It is to be a place of prayer for all people, from all nations. It is the place of covenant where anyone is able to come to God –yes, the Old Testament passage pictures an inclusive fellowship of humankind.
The second text is from Jeremiah 7:9-11. This passage states, “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!”–only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD.” Here the prophet is giving a scathing indictment upon those coming into the temple, and who are doing so without regard to the one true God that they are coming before.” It appears that they were committing every sin and then relying upon the ceremonial action of sacrifices as an indulgence to continue sinning. The prophet Jeremiah was questioning if the temple was nothing more than a hangout for those of common sinfulness. A place where people could gather to plan their next ill deed. In the process were they not robbing God of the true praise and worship due him?
Jesus used these texts to create a contrast between what the temple was supposed to be about and what people sometimes had made of it by disregarding the reality of God’s presence.
Most of the time when people read this text, they think this is where Jesus got angry. However, I would argue that we just imagine that he must have been angry, because to our ears his actions seem angry. I think Jesus was more motivated out of his love for God and his desire and conviction that the temple should be a place for prayer and worship for every person, and he saw clearing the temple as more of a necessary correction. It is sometimes reasoned that the space taken up with the buying and selling was the space meant to be used those coming to the temple who were non-Jewish. It was space in what was designated the court of the gentiles. As Jewish worshipers could move closer to the temple itself, those who were gentiles were relegated to a more distant point, but they still had a place, if you could apparently get around the sheep and goats.
The Bible tells us that Jesus’ actions were motivated out of zeal for the Father’s house. (Psalm 69:9) Zeal is related to the actions of a fervent love. Jesus love was not for the building, but for the relationship that the building was meant to house -a relationship between God and all people. He cleared the temple not for his sake, or for God’s sake, not for the buildings sake, but he cleared the temple for the sake of those seeking God. My Father’s house is to be a house of prayer (ultimately for all the nations). I think if we had been there, we would not have seen Jesus the angry prophet but rather Jesus the teacher. Jesus wanted to lead the people back to God, because that is the purpose and reason for any place of worship. That is the reason he came.
Even for us the significance of any church quite simply is to be a place of prayer where God is to be found.
Emilie Griffin in a book entitled, “The Experience of Prayer” wrote: “All in me is silent, and I am immersed in the silence of God. It is in this stillness that he carries us -it is in the living stillness that we taste of him who made us and meant from the beginning that we should belong to him.”
There are times in life when if we are going to hear God; if we are going to be able to know what God wants of us and for us, we must wait in the quietness to hear God’s voice. There is a need within us not only to speak of God, but to be able to hear God, and for that there must be a place where the soul can be still.
One has to consider the historic significance of the temple. As the children of Israel were freed from their bondage in Egypt, for them there was but one God, unseen and almighty, and to this one God they eventually erected a temple in the heart of Jerusalem. In the heart of the temple, within its inner most sanctuary was the “Holy of Holies,” where only the high priest was allowed to visit. In the heart of the Holy of Holies, separated by partitions and curtains, sat the Ark of the Covenant. In the heart of the ark was the throne, or mercy seat. The kapporeth or “mercy seat” was a flat slab of gold resting on top of the ark. Guarding either end of this slab, and of one piece with it, were the golden cherubim, their faces inward turned toward each other and their wings arching over the mercy seat. Here between the cherubim and over the mercy seat was the throne, the dwelling of the God of Israel. (Exodus 25:22, 30:6; Numbers 7:89) On the Day of Atonement it was on this “Mercy Seat” that the high priest sprinkled blood for the forgiveness of the nation’s sins. Here all that greeted the high priest was an open space; as one writer called it “the great speaking absence between the images.”
In other words, the most sacred space where God was in the midst of the Hebrew people was empty. What the Israelites carried through the wilderness was a seat on which nothing appeared. To go to Jerusalem to visit God, to make a pilgrimage to find mercy and comfort, was to visit this empty space –the holy absence and holy silence of the holy space between the cherubim.
(some of the above thoughts are from the writers of Homoletics Online)
By cleansing the temple of all this noise and worldly endeavors, Jesus sought to restore the purity of the temple, and redeem the space for the silence that God may speak and the people may hear.
What of us? What of our church? Do we allow room for the living silence through which God speaks to be part of our own lives, our church’s life, or do we drown out the voice of God with the important business of daily life?
Jesus prophesied, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” When Jesus was crucified, we are told the curtain separating the “Holy of Holies” was torn into. This was a sign to us that now the presence of God dwells not within that place anymore, but rather within and with Christ. Our way back to the Holy of Holies” to the living silence in which we may hear God’s word for us today, begins in the empty tomb and our willingness to believe in the one whom God sent and vindicated in the resurrection and glorified in the heavens.
In the words of Anglican Bishop Rowan Williams, “It is in the life and death of the Lamb of God that the silence culminates; it is in his life and death that we know there is no more need for a mercy seat …and at last, a silence not between the cherubim but between two thieves, and an absence between two white-clad figures in a burial vault.
Our way back is found when in the moments of stillness, we allow Christ to enter our lives and purge our hearts of the impediments to our spirituality that we have allowed. When we wait upon the Lord, then we shall find God. When focus upon Christ within our lives then we shall find the quiet that we need. Jesus is still doing this for us, yes, even today, and if you allow him the noise and fears of this world will fade, and you too may hear heaven’s voice, in the living silence. Amen.