Third Sunday in Lent

The Third Sunday in Lent takes us deeper into the battle Jesus is waging against Satan and more importantly, further along his road to the cross -- the place of death and sacrifice, and ultimately, victory. Our Gospel lesson moves from Mark's account to that of John's, and the specific story this Sunday describes Jesus cleansing the temple (John 2:13-22).

Though our Lenten narrative shifts from Mark's point of view to John's, the basic themes remain because in John's Gospel there is a stark contrast between light and dark, good and evil. Moreover, in John's Gospel Jesus' divine self shines through in his interactions, his predictions, and ultimately his taking on the cross. In the cleansing of the temple, we see Jesus pitted against the money-changers and those who sold animals to be sacrificed. Using a make-shift whip, he drives out these merchants, turns over their tables of trade and pours out their coin purses. Jesus rebukes these who, to the Jews of the day, were simply fulfilling a perfunctory task to help people have animals for sacrifice.

But reading further we see a glimpse of Jesus path to the cross. When asked by the Jews why he was behaving in such a way, Jesus replied, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). Of course, the Jews did not understand this, and I have a mind to think we wouldn't have either. They reply, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" Fortunately, John gives his readers the back story: "But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken" (John 2:20-22). Here, Jesus actions and prophetic utterances concerning his own death and resurrection produce faith and belief in the lives of his followers. This fruit is the reason John has composed his particular gospel (see John 20:30-31).

Another peculiarity about our Lenten narrative as it shifts from Mark to John is the presence of the Passover. The Passover is the Jewish feast which commemorates and marks the deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egyptian bondage. It is the crowning point of the Exodus event which is doubtless a type of the Christ event - of Jesus death, resurrection, and glorious ascension. In this Sunday's gospel lesson, the story is framed in relationship to the Passover. "The Passover of the Jews was at hand..." (John 2:13). We stay in this context for the next two Sundays, giving us three Sundays to view three different events each foreshadowing in some way Jesus' crucifixion. Clearly, John wants us to see and know and believe that Jesus is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" as John the Baptist exclaims (John 1:29). Let us therefore continue our Lenten journey in faith and the fullness of the Holy Spirit walking with Jesus Christ, our Passover, who was sacrificed for us and raised for us and gives life to the whole world.