|El Greco The Cleansing of the Temple (1600)|
At first sight the readings for this Sunday appear somewhat disconnected, and it is true that there is no one theme running through them. Nevertheless, they are importantly related. Taken together they present once again an idea that is central to the teachings of Jesus, and to the Christian faith. This is the doctrine that Jesus came, not to overturn or to displace the Jewish Law, but to bring it to its fulfillment.
The Old Testament reading reminds us of just what that Law is – the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. The relationship thereby created between God and his
people was covenantal -- God would honor and protect those who kept this Law
and punish those who did not. That is partly why, as writes in the Epistle, the Cross is a
stumbling block to serious Jews. If Jesus is the very embodiment of God’s Law,
how could he have ended up like a common criminal? St Paul
In this week’s Gospel Jesus himself provides the answer when he ‘cleanses’ the temple in Jerusalem. John places this episode, not just before the story of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection as the other Evangelists do, but right at the start of his ministry. He thereby declares it to be key to the meaning of the Incarnation. The Temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of faith in God, but it had become degraded, so degraded in fact that it needed radical renewal. Strange though it must sound, Jesus himself is its renewal. The Body of Christ is the new temple, and his death on the Cross replaces the daily round of animal sacrifices that took place there. The Crucifixion (as the Book of Common Prayer says) is the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins, not of the Jewish people only, but for the whole world.
In Christ, everyone, irrespective of ethnic background, can enter the company of God’s chosen people.