Photo credit: Mike Chai
Readings: Psalm 69:5-13, 16-17, John 2:13-22, Heaven and Hell #187 and Apocalypse Revealed #918.
See also on YouTube at
Today’s text relates the famous anecdote of Jesus clearing the temple of the sellers and money-changers. Familiar as it is, it still retains its power to shock us though, I think, especially when juxtaposed with the teaching and healing that occupied Jesus in the rest of the gospel account. This is one of the only times that we see Jesus so worked up. But it certainly makes sense when we understand historically how the merchants were taking advantage of faithful, impoverished people.
All four gospels mention Jesus clearing the temple courts in this way. Matthew, Mark and Luke use similar phrases and so are likely from a similar earlier source. The account in John is slightly different, and is the only one that links it to a prediction about Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is perhaps because the the author of the gospel of John places the story early in his narrative in order to create some foreshadowing for the events to come later on. The other three gospels place this event towards the end of the story, after Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem.
John’s account of this occurrence also intentionally refers back to Psalm 69: “His disciples remembered that it is written: Zeal for your house will consume me.” This psalm, which we heard this morning, is one attributed to King David, and while probably not actually authored by him, intentionally represents aspects of what we might imagine his experience to have been. One of my commentaries reminds us that “the psalms grew out of concrete historical situations in which real people sought to live their lives under God.” (1)
As we journey in this season on Lent, and this season of history, we may well be resonating with either the sense of being run down and despairing, like King David, or the righteous, sad anger of Jesus, or the simple chaos and uproar of the temple courts themselves. As we work to confront our own shortcomings, as we work to clear out craven and selfish tendencies, as we work to figure out how we can have purpose in a broken world, this scene of disarray in the temple, things scattered and overturned, animals bleeting and sellers protesting, may well be an accurate picture of our internal selves and the chaos that often accompanies necessary change.
What is really interesting though, even as we acknowledge this state, are the words that are spoken into that chaos. Jesus, using metaphorical language as he often does, spoke of his body as a temple, predicting life would come out of destruction. What is even stranger is that he gives this as an answer about authority, about why he felt he had the authority to clear the temple at all.
Why did he make the explicit connection between his body and the temple here, implying that his body was the location of God’s presence with the people? Why would he say this especially after the temple cleansing, and in answer to why he had the authority to do it?
Swedenborg writes that in the highest spiritual sense, the temple represents God’s Divine Humanity. Swedenborg writes a lot about what he calls the “Divine Human", and how important it is that we believe in a God who is Human (with a capital H). And what that capital H means of course, is not that God is fallible in the way that human beings are fallible, but rather, that God is the pattern upon which our human life is based. It implies that there should be a natural resonance, and a natural understanding, between God and us because we are made in God’s image and likeness. God is not “other" to us, but inherently relatable to us.
The Divine Human is God’s pre-existing pattern of humanness that formed us, and continues to form us. And then eventually, the Divine Human found a unique form in Jesus, a new way for us to see God’s Divine Humanity. Certainly, we always have the experience of our own humanness to see, but Jesus brought the Divine Human before our eyes in a particularly powerful way, a way grounded in love, sacrifice and new life.
What do we see in Jesus? We see God’s Divine Humanity healing people who are suffering, feeding people who are hungry, blessing people who are oppressed and reviled. We see God’s Divine Humanity upholding the word of the ancient prophets who criticized those who would use power to afflict the downtrodden. We see God’s Divine Humanity reframing the kin-dom to include all those who would approach with genuine faith and love.
This is the pattern. And in seeing it, we recognize that God is not located in one specific temple, one specific tradition, one specific understanding but rather, that God is located in the Divine Humanity, in all the ways that the Divine Human is with us. God’s presence is in every body, every created body. God’s presence is in the pattern of each person trying to become more human, and the temporary chaos that this creates. And most importantly, God is present in the way that this chaos is resolved, in the burgeoning of new life, of resurrection.
This God is so deeply intertwined with us and this world, and cannot be separate. This is why Swedenborg would talk so passionately about the need to believe in a God that is Human, as opposed to a God who is some kind of disembodied force. While at times I think it is possible he overstates the necessity of it, his main gist is that as a disembodied force, such a God is necessarily disconnected, far away, and inherently other. But God will never actually be these things to us. And Swedenborg uses the term Divine Human to express the fact that God is the pattern out of which we are manifested, and so never can be inherently other, can only be inherently related and relational.
When we deeply understand that God is not inherently other, this can help us in two important ways, which are especially useful to remember during Lent. As we are in the tension, in the David struggle, or the temple chaos, we can remember that God understands the struggle, and that God experienced the struggle, and God has planned for it. Notice the For. God didn’t plan our struggle, but planned for our struggle, creating a universe with resurrection built in, so that there is always the potential to come out the other side with greater love, greater understanding, and greater resilience.
Second, as we remember the Divine Humanity, and we remember that God is not other, then hopefully the natural extension of this recognition is that no one we encounter will be other to us as well. If God’s Divine Humanity is the pattern upon which all life is based, then it must extend to all, no matter the many illusions of hierarchy that our egos manufacture. The gift of being birthed and held within God’s Divine Humanity only truly works for us, for one, if it works for all.
All trials target the love we feel. The severity of the trial matches the nobility of the love. If love is not the target, there is no trial….The Lord’s life was love for the whole human race, a love so great and good that it was pure, unalloyed love. He allowed this life of his to be attacked continuously, from the dawn of his youth until his final moments in the world.(2)
"Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Psalm 69:9) Jesus’ zeal was proportional to his love. There can be no one who has more zeal for us and for our journey than God. And sometimes that will look like zeal for clearing our what needs to be cleared and that’s not fun. But that zeal is anchored in the reality of the Divine Humanity, the reality of God’s closeness and likeness and love for us, all of us. If we must use the word “authority” then this is where God’s authority to clear the temple of our selfhood comes from. When we ask why Lent, why we should open ourselves to any struggle at all, the answer is not so much found in what we will gain, but how God is with us. The deeper we go into God’s presence, the greater the invitation to let go of what needs to be let go. Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days. That’s a promise.
Psalm 69:5-13, 16-17
5 You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you. 6 Lord, the LORD Almighty, may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel, may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me. 7 For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. 8 I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children; 9 for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. 10 When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; 11 when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me. 12 Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards. 13 But I pray to you, LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.
16 Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. 17 Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 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. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 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.
Heaven and Hell 187
So I could see why the Lord calls himself the temple that is in Jerusalem (John 2:19, 21). I could also see why the New Jerusalem appeared as a city of pure gold, with gates of pearl and foundations of precious gems (Revelation 21): it is because a temple offers an image of the Lord's divine human; the New Jerusalem refers to the church that was going to be founded; and the twelve gates are the truths that lead to what is good, and the foundations are the truths on which it is based.
Apocalypse Revealed 918.
Revelation 21:22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. This symbolically means that the New Church will have no external element divorced from an internal one, because it turns to the Lord Himself in His Divine humanity, from whom comes everything connected with the church, and worships and adores Him alone.