This morning with upturned tables, coins scattered and animals scrambling, Jesus points to the true meaning of the temple: it is never ever a place for business, but his Father’s own house, the sacred meeting place of God and his people. And so, Jesus is anxious to clear out what does not belong there. Above the din, they ask him, “What right have you to do this?” Jesus’ right is the right of Truth. His answer: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” We can imagine the indignation his interruption of the temple business along with his talk of destruction engendered. Small wonder that this scene in today’s Gospel is viewed by most scholars as the act that precipitates the decision of the authorities to kill Jesus. Still, it is important to remember that Jesus does not “condemn the temple cult; he intervenes because he truly understands and loves it” (Schneiders).
It is at this point in the narrative that we hear that most beautiful phrase, whispered to us by the Evangelist as a kind of mystical aside. “He was speaking of the temple of his body.” The temple of his Body. The temple that will be destroyed and raised up is not the temple of stone but the temple of Jesus’ own body. Jesus is the new gift of God that replaces the former. He knows this in his heart. The temple, the sanctuary, is no longer a place, but a person. Jesus declares himself now and forever the meeting place between God and his people, the place where God’s desire for us and our desire for God merge.
Jesus restores the meaning of temple as a sacred place of wonder and worship; the sanctuary where we may encounter God’s mercy. Jesus himself is God’s Lamb who will be slain once and for all. His self-offering in its bitterness and pain, in its immeasurable mercy and compassion, will fulfill all that the temple liturgy aspired to. Truly, Jesus’ sacrifice will reinvigorate the meaning of all liturgy. For the liturgy is always, always first of all God’s service of us. This is the true meaning of worship: our celebrating with gratitude and praise all that God in Christ is doing for us. It is not about us, our service of God, but God’s astonishingly humble service of us in Christ. Jesus as physician, healer, and messenger of the new covenant comes to serve us, to heal and feed and console us. It is his risen and wounded body that is our sanctuary.
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” says Jesus. He’s referring to his Hour, the Hour of his passion, death, and resurrection. For it is most of all in this Hour that he will truly become the place where we can encounter the most tender, self-emptying love and service of the Father for all creation. For when Jesus’ body, his heart, is gashed open and shattered by the horror of the passion, it becomes that wonderful leaky temple of Ezekiel’s vision in the First Reading, life-giving waters flowing from his wounded body, recreating the beauty of Paradise. For in his Hour death dies, for Jesus’ Hour includes his final lifting up, the resurrection accomplished by the Father’s love.
God is love. Love never ends. Love is never ugly. And God’s love is always creating beauty in place of brokenness. Jesus’ self-emptying love ultimately belongs to the phenomenon of beauty, because through his passion the beauty of God reveals the promise it contains (Von Balthasar). For devout Jews, the temple was revered as a most sacred place of great beauty. Now it is truly Jesus who is for us this most beautiful temple, our sanctuary, our place of prayer.
All of our praying takes place in him always, in his heart; for we can only pray in him, through him. We can only pray at all because he prays first, begging the Father incessantly on our behalf. And each time we step into a church, we enter Christ’s wounded heart, the sanctuary that he is for us. In our praying through him, in him, we are becoming more and more with him a most beautiful, leaky temple, a life-giving flood of mercy gushing from our woundedness as well. This transcendent beauty of the wounded resurrected Jesus is what we reveal as individuals, as a monastic community, and as Church. It is not ever neat, well-sealed, air-tight, and efficient but a temple that leaks, leaks a lot because it’s full of holes and cracks and wounds that need mercy and overflow with mercy.
We are his most beautiful body. He is our broken wounded Self, forever risen and pierced.
Manuscript painting of the Crucifixion.Belgium, possibly Tournai, ca. 1440. The Morgan Library, New York.