“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” ~ Jesus
“Are we not all of us fanatics?…Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. You are what you love….Who teaches your USA children how to choose their temple? What to love enough not to think two times? For this choice determines all else, no? All other of, what you say, are free choices follow from this. What is your temple? ~ David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, pgs 151
This character, Marathe, notices something about us. It is not only true of those of us who make a regular habit of gathering here to worship on Sundays. All of us worship at a temple. Whatever it is that we place at the center of our lives, whatever we are most deeply attached to, whatever it is that we love enough not to think two times—that is our temple of fanaticism.
This scene in John chapter two is not what many of us associate with Jesus of Nazareth. We tend to think of Jesus as a blond hared, blue-eyed, forty-year-old-white guy; a little on the effeminate side. We dial up the lyrics of the old him, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” It is difficult for us to see Jesus here worked up to a lather, veins swelling on the side of his neck, brow furrowed and jaw muscles pulsing as he knocks tables over and uses a hastily made whip to drive livestock out of Church.
For ancient man a temple was a place where heaven and earth overlapped and interlocked. It was the place where broken people could bridge the infinite gulf between them and the divine. It was the place where the visible and in the invisible would meet each other.
But during the Enlightenment there were a group of intellectuals who said in various ways that all that is is what we can see, taste, touch and measure—scientifically. The implication of that is that there is nothing that can’t be explained or solved by scientific progress.
In the several hundred years after that, we have made all kinds of progress in understanding who we are, where we’ve come from and how to solve many of the problems of the world. And yet with all of the progress that flowed out of the Enlightenment, we have not solved our problems. We have found cures for many of the diseases that plagued those very men in the age of Enlightenment and at the same time we have invented catastrophic ways in which to destroy humanity. And post-modern man is left with this gnawing question: There has to be something more.
Like grass that slowly sprouts through cracks in concrete; spiritual desire, desire for a temple keeps sprouting up in our world.
In the Jewish tradition, the Temple wasn’t a retreat from reality, rather it was a beach head of reality into the world. It was a living sign that the one true God, the Living Creator, had not abandoned His world or the people who lived in it. Instead, was actively at work to renew and restore it.
When you look at the tapestry of scripture from the beginning of this book we love, all of God’s creation is “Temple.” This shows up when you read carefully the Old Testament description of the Tabernacle, which was the precursor to the Temple that Solomon built. Both of them are designed to echo back to the primal days of creation.
In the earliest days of life people communed with God face-to-face. And even after humanity turned their backs on God, He made arrangements in the tabernacle and then in the temple for broken people like you and me to be in his perfect presence.
And then down through the centuries, the Hebrew prophets over and over again would lean forward, squint their eyes to look ahead into the future for a day when God would act decisively to put what was wrong in the world right again and welcome people back into his living presence—when all of the world would be a Temple again.
By the time of Jesus’ day this theology and expectation had developed to such a point that most everyone believed that God would work through a singular individual — a Messiah. And one of the things the Messiah would do would be to reform or restore the Jerusalem Temple. It had become quite corrupt by Jesus’ day. This is why as He whipped that goat, and drove out that lamb and let loose that cage of turtle doves the officials stood wide-eyed and asked, “Who do you think you are, anyway?”
Jesus answered their question with a riddle that has a staggering claim lurking behind its door. The shocking claim is this: That He is a walking, living, breathing Temple. That His flesh and blood are where heaven and earth overlap and interlock. Where the visible and the invisible meet each other.
And through this mysterious figure, we actually see God’s glory as if we were standing in the Temple ourselves. And in a short three years Jesus would die—zeal for His Father’s house would literally consume him—but three days later God would raise Him from the dead so that people like you and I can connect with God, not by going to a place, but by going through a person.
Can you see why this is one of the most shocking things that Jesus ever said? No one else has ever had the audacity to claim this. When your family or friends tell you that all religions are the same, you can confidently assure them that only Jesus of Nazareth has ever claimed what he claimed. All sorts of other religions, cults and groups have built temples, but Jesus says, “I am the Temple.”
This turns the tables on our whole lives