Monday, March 2, 2015


The Ten Commandments  Lucas Crannach the Elder (1472-1553)

At first sight the readings for this Sunday appear to be largely unconnected. What does listing the Ten Commandments have to do with Jesus overturning the tables in the temple? This is a good question, because there is no one clear theme running through them. Even so, they are nevertheless importantly related. Taken together these readings present us once more with a truth that is central to the teachings of Jesus, and to the Christian faith. It lies in something Jesus himself declared: that he came neither to overturn nor to replace the Jewish Law, but to bring it to its fulfillment.

The Old Testament reading from Exodus reminds us of just what that Law is, as embodied in the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. The relationship between God and his Chosen people these commandments created was a covenantal one. God would honor and protect those who kept his Law, and punish those who did not. That is partly why, as St Paul writes in the Epistle, the Cross must be something of a stumbling block to serious Jews. If Jesus, as Paul claims, is the very embodiment of God’s Law -- the Law to which Paul remained faithful -- how could he have ended up like a common criminal?

Christ Overturning the Money Changer's Table -- Stanley Spencer (1921)
In this week’s Gospel John provides an answer when he places the story of Jesus ‘cleansing’ the temple in Jerusalem right at the start of his ministry, rather than immediately before the story of his suffering and death, which is where the other Evangelists locate it. By this device John  declares Jesus' action in the Temple to be key to the meaning of the Incarnation. 

For the Jews of the New Testament, the Temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of their worship, and the monument to their faith in God. It had, however,  become degraded, so degraded in fact that it needed radical renewal. Strange though it must sound, by his action Jesus declares himself to be 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. In that death, the whole idea of sacrifice is transformed. 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.

The message is evident. In Christ, everyone everywhere, irrespective of ethnic background and geographical location, is called, and able, to enter the company of God’s chosen people.

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