GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The Third Sunday in Lent for Year B continues our journey toward the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus with an episode that's not from Mark's gospel. This is another one of those occasions when the Church is going to insert a passage from the Gospel of John into Year B so that we can hear from the fourth gospel. This is something that happens a lot during Lent and Easter, and so the third Sunday of Lent is one of those times, and it’s the famous story of Jesus’ so-called cleansing of the temple. So in the Gospel of John 2, John gives us an account of Jesus' actions with a specific focus on how what Jesus did in the temple pointed forward to his death and resurrection. So we’re going to look at those verses, it’s John 2:13-25, and try to break them down. So the gospel for this week says this:
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.
Alright, we’ll stop there. There is a lot going on here in this account, so let’s walk through it and hit some key points. First, notice when it takes place. Twice John emphasizes for you that this takes place at the time of the Jewish Passover. So if you go back to the Old Testament, Leviticus 23, Exodus 12, the Passover was the feast that not only celebrated the exodus from Egypt and the deliverance from Pharaoh, but it was also celebrated each year in the spring, some time around March or April. So if you think about this, when John says it was Passover time, he's telling you it was spring time. So there's already a connection for you between the passage and our own remembrance of this text during Lent, right. So we too are, in a sense, preparing for the great Passover of Easter. That’s the first connection there, a liturgical connection.
The second element of the account we want to emphasize here is the reason Jesus turns the tables of the money changers over and he drives them out with a whip. Alright, I mean this is serious here. Why would Jesus do that? What's the rationale here? Well, although many people kind of assume, or even assert, that the money changers are cheating people and that's the primary reason that Jesus is upset with them, you notice that the Gospel of John doesn't actually say that, and there's a reason for that. First...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So he says, on the one hand — back to 1 Corinthians 1 — Jews demand signs.
And what about the Greeks? The Greeks seek wisdom. Now the Greek word there for wisdom is sophia
. And we get the word philosophy from that. Philosophia
in Greek literally means...people usually translate it as “love as wisdom,” and that’s right. But a philos
isn’t just any kind of love. It’s the love of a friend...philosophia
. So a person who is a lover of wisdom or a person who is a friend of wisdom is a philosopher. That’s what a philosopher is — friend of wisdom.
So the Greeks seek for wisdom. In other words, they want philosophy. So they want to use reason to verify the Gospel. It needs to be subject to the analysis of philosophical reasoning. So there are different ways to verify it. You can verify it empirically through signs and wonders, or you can verify it rationally through reason and philosophy. And Paul says:
...but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles...
Okay, so he preaches the Cross here. Now, in order to understand those two responses he’s going to give to Jews and Gentiles from the Cross, we have to put the Cross and the Crucifixion of Jesus in its first century Jewish setting...but also its first century Greco-Roman setting. How would crucifixion have been understood in a first century Greco-Roman and Jewish setting?
In order to see this, there are two quotes that I can give you that will help. The first one is from the book of Deuteronomy. In the book of Deuteronomy chapter 21:22-23, there’s a passage from the law of Moses that actually says that anyone who dies being hung on a tree is accursed of God. So listen to these words. This is from Deuteronomy 21:
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.
Now, if you look at that passage, strictly speaking what it’s saying is: anyone who is executed by hanging is considered to be accursed. Now, most of us don’t link “hanging” with crucifixion in our minds. We think of it as two different ways of being executed. But in the ancient world, they were tied together because various forms of suspension on wood and death through crucifixion — or sometimes just called suspension. Hanging a person on some erected form of wood was — whatever shape the wood might be in — was associated with or identified as what we would call crucifixion. In other words, there are a variety of ways to execute someone by hanging, and one of them was crucifixion...what we would think of as crucifixion.
So by the first century AD, when the method of execution by crucifixion as Christ was crucified was very widespread under Roman rule, because that’s the method they used to execute slaves. This passage was linked with the method of execution that we call crucifixion. And you can see this in early Jewish writings from the time of Jesus...or you can see it in Paul himself. For example, if you look at Galatians 3:13, Paul says this:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree”...
So you see there, in Galatians 3 Paul himself explicitly interprets the curse of hanging in Deuteronomy 21 as applying in the case of Jesus’ Crucifixion, because He’s suspended from the wood of a tree when He’s suspended on the wood of the Cross.
So, if you take that back to 1 Corinthians 1, the reason Paul says that the cross is a stumbling block to Jews is because the Greek word there for “stumbling block” is skandalon
. It’s something that
makes you trip up. If a skandalon
is in the road, you might trip over it and fall down...so the reason the Crucifixion of Jesus is a scandal or stumbling block to the Jews is because according to Jewish law (as read in the first century), a person who is crucified is accursed of God.
So you have Christians like Paul going around saying, “Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the king of Israel. Jesus is the Son of God.” Meanwhile, a Jewish person hearing that for the first time will look at the Torah and say, “Well, hold on. How did he die? He died by being hung on a tree? He died by crucifixion? Well, according to the Torah, a person who is hung on a tree, a person who is crucified, is not blessed by God but cursed by God.”
So some Jews, according to Paul, saw the Crucifixion as a countersign to Jesus’ Messianic identity. They saw the Crucifixion as reason for disbelieving
the Gospel rather than believing the Gospel...so it was a stumbling block.
On the other side of the coin, if you look at crucifixion in a Greco-Roman setting, from a Roman perspective, crucifixion was considered the most shameful form of death, because it was a death that was both horrific — in terms of its physical suffering that it entailed and the torture that it entailed — but also because of the public shame of it being reserved only for slaves. Paul will learn this truth very harshly himself, when at the end of his life he’s executed by decapitation …. because there were two forms of execution. Decapitation was how you would execute a Roman citizen. Crucifixion was how you would execute a slave. That’s why Peter is crucified, according to Jerome and other early Church historians, when he’s executed in Rome, because he’s not a citizen like Paul. He doesn’t have Roman citizenship; he’s a Jewish slave of the empire.
So, Cicero — first century Roman orator, one of the most famous Roman writers — said this about the shame of crucifixion. Cicero not only called the Cross “the tree of shame” — that’s how he described it — but he also had this to say about crucifixion:
[T]he executioner, the veiling of the head and the very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things… [but] indeed the very mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.
That’s from Cicero’s Oration against Verres
, number 16. So Cicero is basically saying crucifixion is so shameful we shouldn’t even talk about it. A Roman citizen shouldn’t even mention it. That is totally reserved for slaves and nobodies in the empire.
So when Paul comes around and he has Greeks (like in the Church at Corinth), and he’s saying to them, “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, is the Son of God and the king of the world, the savior of the world” — from a Roman perspective, this man who was crucified is a nobody. He’s a slave. And so the Greek response to Paul’s proclamation of Christ crucified is that it’s foolishness to say that the Savior of the world and the king of the universe was crucified. Because according to a Roman, if someone is crucified, by definition that means they are a slave and not a king. It means they are a slave and not a citizen, much less the king of kings and lord of lords. See how that works?
So when Paul said that to the Greeks, that the Cross was foolishness, the Greek word there is actually mōria
, which means it’s moronic. We get the word “moron” from that Greek word. It’s idiocy to say that a crucified man is the savior and king of the world...but that’s what Paul is going around preaching. So the Jews demand signs, the Greeks demand wisdom. I preach Christ crucified….we, I should say, the Apostles:
...but we preach Christ crucified, a [skandalon
] to Jews and [moronic idiocy] to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)
So good...and Paul. So powerful. This is really pressing into the mystery of the Cross. It is
a scandal. It does seem stupid. It does seem idiocy. It does seem moronic...if you look at the cross through the eyes of the world, if you look at it from an earthly perspective. But if you look beyond the visible to the invisible
mystery of who it is hanging on the cross, and why He’s hanging there, and what He’s accomplishing through His Passion and through the outpouring of His blood, it becomes the very vehicle through which God will redeem not just the Jews — and God will save not just the people of Israel — but the nations as well, the Gentiles as well. Because the problem of sin is a universal problem. It’s not just a Jewish problem; it’s just a Greek problem. It’s a universal human problem, so it’s going to take a universal savior to atone for it. And that’s what He accomplishes.
And that’s why Paul goes around preaching Christ and Him crucified. It’s the heart of the Good News, because it’s the sign of God’s love for humanity. He pours out His love on the Cross.
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