March 4, Lent 3B (John 2:13-22)
Jesus isn't just reforming temple practices.
Many nights during the season of Advent, my family and I turn off nearly all the lights in the house. We gather around a makeshift wreath, a metal bin decorated with stars and berries and filled with plastic greens, all courtesy of Michaels craft store. We sing the first verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” while lighting the appropriate number of candles. We share “sads, glads, and mads,” and, at the end, one of the children leads us in a repeat-after-me prayer. I look at their faces across the flickering candlelight as they press into our laps and hug us close. This idyllic scene is often punctuated with shouts and arguments over who’s next, who will blow out which candle, and then a rush to finish the ritual so we can send everyone to bed.
I love Advent. I need the visceral reminder of what we’re anticipating: that the Word came to inhabit the same world we do, the same bones and marrow, the same air. Advent comes around every year, and despite the frenetic and frantic tones of the season, it’s this that gets me in the end. Even if I haven’t been paying attention when the candles are lit, whether it’s peace or hope or joy that week—it’s the story of “God moving into the neighborhood” (The Message), God choosing to come near, God choosing the fragile and ordinary that always knocks the breath out of me.
The season of Lent effects a similar sensation in me—that is, wonder at God’s entrance into the world in a particular way, in vulnerability and humanity. But we are in the Gospel of John, which presents a high Christology and emphasizes the divinity of Jesus the Christ. After the wedding at Cana (2:1–12), we come to John’s version of Jesus toppling the temple. This is significantly earlier than in the synoptic Gospels, where Jesus turns the tables at the end of his ministry, an event that arguably becomes the impetus for the religious leaders to seek his arrest. In John, it’s paired instead with his first miracle, the first sign: turning water into wine.