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Our Ancient Story


On the Gospel of John 2:13-25

3rd Sunday of Lent

In the 2nd century, when the Church was still young, a bishop called Marcion began to teach some radical things about the Old Testament. He thought that Yahweh described in the Old Testament was so different from the God proclaimed by Jesus Christ that they were really different gods. Yahweh was, according to Marcion, a lesser god, morally dubious and not worthy of our worship, unlike the New Testament God of compassion and love. This is a view that’s still common today, although in different forms. I’ve often heard people say, ‘I’m more of a New Testament man myself’, or ‘I don’t really like the God of the Old Testament’.  

If we want to follow Christ closely, though, we can’t have this attitude to the Old Testament, because it’s not the attitude he had to it. In the Gospel this Sunday we see Jesus acting like many an Old Testament prophet, consumed with zeal for the Temple, desiring to cleanse and purify it, and to make it a worthy place of worship. Jesus did not reject Jewish worship in the Temple, and in Luke’s Gospel, for example, we see the centrality of the Temple in the first chapters: it is in the Temple that Jesus is recognised by Simeon as the Messiah, for example. Jesus lived and prayed as a Jew, and he said ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them’ (Mt 5:17).

There is more to the story than this, however. Jesus says a very strange thing to the Jews in the Temple: ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up’. The evangelist explains what he means: ‘he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body’. In this little phrase, then, Jesus takes a massive leap: while the Temple was for centuries the privileged place of God’s dwelling on earth, the place of which God said, ‘my name will be there’ (1 Kgs 8:29), now Jesus himself is God’s dwelling, he is the new Temple. This is what it means for Jesus to ‘fulfill’ the Law and Prophets.

So there is continuity, not rupture, between God’s revelation to Israel and his revelation to the whole world in Jesus Christ. This fact should guide our approach to the Old Testament. We should love it, receive it as God’s self-revelation, and read it with care and attention. The stories of Israel are our stories too, and we should get to know and love the characters of the Old Testament: Abraham, the faith-filled father of a great people; Esther, the brave defender of her people; Solomon the wise; David, the king who ‘danced before the Lord’; Job, the good man who suffered; and Jonah, the reluctant prophet. But we read the Law, the Prophets, and the books of Wisdom ‘in the light of Christ’. So when you go to Mass on Sunday, pay special attention to the first reading, which is taken from the Old Testament. It might sometimes sound exotic and obscure, but it’s always linked somehow to the Gospel reading. It tells our story, fulfilled in Christ.


When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

– John 2:13-25


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