Posted March 7, 2021
Year B, 3rd Sunday of Lent
We can see that St John attaches great importance to this episode of the Cleansing of the Temple. Not only does he bring it forward to near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when the earlier evangelists had placed it near the end. He has also attached to the narrative a comment that is not in the other Gospels. It is a creation of his own. I mean the comment: ‘He was referring to the temple of his body.’ St John wants to use the episode and the interpretation he has given it as an overture to the whole presentation of Jesus in his Gospel.
St John is saying that it is Jesus who is the dwelling place of God, not the Jerusalem Temple. The meeting-point between heaven and earth is no longer a building but a person. This theme runs throughout the whole of St John’s Gospel implicitly. We meet with it explicitly again in chapter 4, when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’ ‘The hour is coming, and it is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’ Some interpreters think that to worship the Father in spirit and in truth means to worship God in our spirit, that is, inwardly, as opposed to worshipping God through external ceremonies. But I don’t think that is what the phrase means. In St John’s Gospel ‘in spirit’, means not in our spirit, but ‘in the Holy Spirit’; and ‘in truth’ means ‘in Jesus’ ‒ for Jesus is the Truth. True worship of the Father ‒ worship in Spirit and in Truth ‒ is the worship that Jesus gives to the Father and which we share in through the Holy Spirit. In other words, worship of the Father will take place not in any physical temple but in Jesus himself.
But if Jesus is the place of worship, when does this worship take place? Like everything else that happens in St John’s Gospel, it takes place first and foremost in eternity. After all, St John’s Gospel begins in eternity. ‘In the beginning was the Word … [the Word] who is [eternally] in the bosom of the Father.’ The whole being of the Word is a movement of love and worship, of surrender to the Father: a sacred, eternal liturgy of adoration and ecstatic self-giving. It is to that liturgy that Jesus is referring later in the Gospel when he says to the Father: ‘Father, all that you have is mine and all that I have is yours.’
The second answer to the question if Jesus is the place of worship, when does this worship take place? is: during Jesus’ earthly life, and most especially in his death and resurrection. That prayer of Jesus in St John’s Gospel, ‘Father, glorify me with the glory that I had with you before the foundation of the world’, is immediately answered by the Father with the hour of suffering and glory. Jesus is ‘lifted up’, onto the cross and into glory in a single continuous movement. Jesus’ death is the supreme act of worship. When Jesus, in St John’s Gospel, says on the cross: ‘It is accomplished’, he means that through his act of perfect obedience the eternal liturgy of heaven is now incarnate upon earth.
There is, finally, a third answer to the question, if Jesus is the place of worship, when does this worship take place? This third answer is beautifully summed up in those words of the Second Vatican Council: ‘In the sacred liturgy Christ associates the Church with himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and human beings are sanctified. The Church is his beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through him offers worship to the Eternal Father.’ The Church’s liturgy, culminating in the Eucharist, is the re-enactment of, and our sharing in, that perfect worship of Jesus on the cross, which itself is the incarnation of his eternal worship of the Father.
We are called to participate in Jesus’ act of worship. This is the essence of our religion, the meaning of our lives. All holiness, all love, all meaning are to be found there. We must soar like an eagle ‒ like St John the Evangelist ‒ to begin to understand it, appreciate it, feel it in our lives, from day to day. Lent and Holy Week are urgently inviting us to see the wonder, the beauty, the depth and the drama of it all; and the unspeakable privilege of being called to make it our own.
Fr Tom Deidun