When Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the day that we call Palm Sunday, the crowds acclaimed him as the Messiah and welcomed him with great joy. But the first three gospels record him doing something very strange as his first act of coming into the city – he goes into the Temple and cleanses it (Matthew 21:12-15; Mark 11:11-16; Luke 19:41-48). But this action is only the first shocking thing that Jesus will do in regards to a Temple that was not only sacred, but also central to the religious, historical, political and economic identity of the Jewish people – and which had been since the time of King David who had first desired to build a temple in honour of the Lord and which his son Solomon had built almost 1000 years before. He tells the people “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) The people respond with a question – it has taken forty-six years to build this temple – and you will raise it up in three days? The first temple (Solomon’s) was a wonder of the ancient world, and people travelled from near and far just to be able to say that they had seen it with their own eyes; but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC. After the Persians defeated the Babylonian empire, they allowed the Jewish people to return from Exile and to slowly rebuild the city, its walls and the temple. But this second temple was not as large and nowhere near as grand or elegant as the Temple of Solomon, until the time of King Herod who embarked upon a grand rebuilding program that had turned the Jerusalem Temple into a new wonder of the world.
As grand and beautiful as the temple was – made of brick and stone and decorated in silver and gold – it was not this building that Jesus was referring to, but the temple of his body. In fact the temple would be destroyed only a generation after the time of Jesus, when the forces of the Roman Emperor Titus swept through in AD 70 to quell a rebellion that had begun four years earlier in what became known as the First Jewish War. Jesus wanted his disciples and the church to understand that the temple was only a sign of the presence of God – but it was the even more precious temples of flesh and bone that would be the stunning sign of the presence of God – his own body and then the body of each believer was meant to become a place where the very presence of God will dwell. The resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits of this, reminding us that the human experience is meant to be a place of transformation and new life.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10.30am (8’02”)
Easter Sunday – Mass of the Resurrection
I played an edited version of this video after the homily: Starting Today – what will you do?