Reflection for Third Sunday of Lent

by Michael Ellard – John 2.3 – 23

Imagine the scene, people standing in groups talking together in the shade of the colonnades, whilst others are buying and selling all sorts of things. There are birds in cages, people haggling over prices, and the whole place is a buzz of activity. It might be a scene from any vibrant market place today were it not for the global pandemic, but this is taking place two thousand years ago in the temple courts in the heart of Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish life. It is the beating heart of their faith, it is the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, has promised to live amongst his people, yet the peoples’ response to this seems to have been lost through the commercialism that has sprung up around the rituals adopted in their worship.

Suddenly, into this scene comes Jesus with his disciples, and in a frenzy of outrage, he over-turns the tables, sets free the sacrifices, and pushes out the goats, the sheep, and people alike. It is a side of him we seldom see, yet this is His Father’s house, and he is fiercely defensive of it. In front of him he sees, not just people, but God’s chosen people of Israel who have lost their focus on Him being centre to their lives. Their leaders have become disconnected to His presence in their greed for power and dominance, and their faith has become a veneer worn over less attractive human values.

As we move through this time of Lent, we may spend a little time considering what our faith means for us today, in the midst of a world crisis that surrounds us all. Has it become like a rather well-worn coat, warm and comfortable, slipped over human values and taken for granted. Or does it sometimes challenge us, causing us to see ourselves as God does, needing a few changes here and there, and are we becoming a more responsive to those changes needed, both within and around us?

Lent is a time of reflection, the prayer book refers to it as, a time for ‘Penitential Reflection’, where the shadow of the cross comes steadily towards us, highlighting not just our own short comings, but the personal sacrifice made by Jesus for each of us. Lent though, is also a time of Hope, looking towards new Life, new beginnings, given to all through Christ’s resurrection, which is a central foundation stone of our faith.

For if the light and life of our faith is to burn brightly, then it must have at its centre the resurrection of Christ,  Jesus living within us, amongst us, and through us today for the outside world to see by our words and actions. It is Christ’s resurrection that marks out not just who he was, but who we are.

When Jesus gathered together those first disciples, he asked them the question, ‘Will you come and follow me?’, and later, ‘if you do wish to follow me, first pick up your own cross’. He asks those same questions of us all daily, for in following Christ, we are constantly challenged, not just to make choices between right and wrong, but to be sacrificial in our way of life, putting everyone before ourselves, in a world that does not always share God’s values.

As we journey through this time of Lent, we begin to see the Old Testament drawing to a close as Jesus places himself as the ultimate sacrifice for human behaviour. He stands in direct opposition to the wrongs people commit, and shows that human nature can not only be changed through God, but it will never destroy the love God has for all his people. The Temple He wishes to live in, is not the ornate building in the heart of Jerusalem with all its rituals and sacrifices to him where his Son now stands, but it is within his Son, taken into everyone’s hearts that God wishes to be. Jesus is to become the final sacrifice of the Passover story, made not on the terms of the people who will shout for his crucifixion later on, but made on God’s terms of love, forgiveness and healing that will go forward to become a New Testament and covenant to all who turn to him in faith.

Solving the problems we face today will involve many strands of communication, teaching, learning, love, and healing woven together carefully over time. We may not have any ‘Silver Bullets’ to do this immediately, but do we always recognise the ‘Golden Bullet’ we have been given, the Risen Christ amongst us today, and every day? For it is the Spirit of the Risen Lord that will help turn the tide of disinterest in Christ’s message as it did on the day of Pentecost for the disciples. It is a Spirit that will fan the flame Jesus came to light, not just in his first disciples, but in ourselves, and all who follow him. It is a light that shining through each of us, changes the situations around us, and the world in which we live, not just for our future, but one for our children’s children to inherit. So perhaps we too should rattle a few tables in defence of God’s love for this world and all its people, when we see things that need to change in His eyes.