This reading is well know to us. At certain major turns in the Church year we hear this gospel like when we commemorate the Lutheran Reformation at the end of October, but also here at the junction between Epiphany and Lent, between the holidays of Christmas and Easter, when the Church commemorates the Incarnation and then the suffering, death and burial, resurrection and ascension of our Lord. It’s a good reading for a confessional service, because it demonstrates that Jesus Christ came into this world to expel the devil and conquer all evil and to bring God’s reign and gracious kingdom into our midst and his will of forgiveness and healing to fruition and glory.
Our Lord is the master of the temple. He’s in charge there like the Father. Not only is it good for him to be in the house of the Father as he clarifies, when he was 12 years old, but rather he owns the place, it is his and he calls the shots there. That’s what he exhibits there in Jerusalem in the temple. It’s not the Pharisees, the scribes or the learned theologians, who own the place – at best they are custodians, at worst they are rebellious occupants, hijackers, who deny the rightful owner his just dues. It’s not the money changers or even the priests going about the lucrative business of holy sacrifices, who own the place. They too are just watchmen, keepers of holy things and guardians of God’s way of doing things. At least that’s what they’re supposed to be. However things have deteriorated so badly that Jesus call them thieves and robbers, who have lost sight of the faithful service and ministry in the temple, who have gone about a lot of self-serving business and have safeguarded the place as an unholy haunt of their own treasures instead of dishing out God’s gracious gifts to the nation and all the world. High walls, distinct currency, racial segregation and religious discrimination of outsiders keep the nations from God’s precious reserves. Everybody is busy with slaughter of birds and beasts, sacrifice of harvest and crops, but only as a way and means to insure own security and flourishing now and in the future. Everybody is following the rules and regulations of their own statutes, blue, black or red books – call them CIC, First Amendment or even “Grüner Junker” or what you like – and not realizing that the “Golden Rule”, the “Ten Words”, the holy Law of God in the Bible are thus sidelined, sidestepped and disregarded. It’s fallen into disrepute. Jesus repeats it twice: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Mat 9:13 NIV)
The Jews and the temple business excluded foreigners, non-circumcised, lepers, sinners and tax-collectors. The insiders go about the business of sacrifice as self-justification and exclusion of those different and otherwise. The promised Messiah – Jesus Christ – comes and rectifies this situation in God’s name and mission. He drives out the illusion of pleasing worship, this deterioration of divine service into man-made self-service and pitiful because vain practice of a sectarian few and throws it all into the dump and titles it robbery and theft. The self-made-and-called-men are just hirelings, false priests and good-for-nothings, who have no right to rule in God’s sanctuary and manage his sheepfold without or even against his authority. As good shepherd and true gardener – Jesus Christ cleans up the place and makes it into a proper place of prayer again – installs the rightful sacrifice outside the temple and city walls on Golgotha and thus throws it open to the world. There he gives himself as the Lamb of God, who carries the sins of the world. There he becomes the holy and all-sufficient propitiation for our sins. There he sheds his holy blood – not just for the lucky few, but for the people all the nations + for us and our salvation + for the forgiveness of all your sins + Then the curtain in the temple is torn from the bottom to the top. The holy of holies is accessible to all – without further priestly mediation, just by the one high priest Jesus Christ – the Son of God, who gives us free access to the Father by soothing the wrath of God and making us his friends and family – once and for all. No longer on this or that mountain, no longer with this or that animal offering or slaughter praxis, but rather in the Holy Spirit and in truth revealed by him pointing us to Jesus as the only saviour of all. There is no other way to the Father!
Well, that’s good for us, who are not Jews either by a long shot. By his grace and goodness, we Africans too now have access to the living God and most gracious Father through Jesus Christ. Yet he needs to continue to clean out our lives too. It happens too quickly that we take his grace and goodness for granted and misuse it as a cover-up of our own sinfulness and selfish ways. Familiarity breeds contempt and far too rapidly do we forget who is the holy God and living Lord and what he desires, wants and commands even for us and our lives and what we owe him always. Therefore he comes this morning and relieves us from all evil and selfish sinfulness. He does that through the forgiveness of our sins, by the laying on of hands and by granting us the divine peace that passes all understanding even amidst troubled and difficult times. He grants us his Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in his truthful words and ways. He occupies us and our lives and makes us living temples of his own, where he calls the shots and where he is in charge – directing our lives into the ways of his liking and wherever he wants us to go and to be. Let us therefore approach the altar with repentant, yet confident hearts – repent of our sins and sinful being and ways and put our trust into his gospel promise: Your sins are forgiven! Go in Peace + Amen.
Though great our sins and sore our woes His grace much more aboundeth; His helping love no limit knows, Our upmost need it soundeth. Our Shepherd good and true is He, Who will at last His Israel free From all their sin and sorrow
(Martin Luther on Ps.130 “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu Dir…” translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1863, alt.