The Emporium

“Emporium”

That’s the word John puts in Jesus’ mouth as he essentially opens his ministry by whipping the money changes and flipping over tables, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  Thanks to the folks at Sermon Brainwave, I now realize that this is very different from what Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Jesus saying during his final week:

  • Mark – Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.
  • Matthew – It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.
  • Luke – The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.

This seems to be the reason we get John’s version of the story for Lent 3, Year B, rather than Mark’s which would make a whole lot more sense seasonally.  John seems to be provoking his readers to ask themselves a version of the question that my Bishop has asked for at least two Diocesan Conventions now, “How are we to be?”  The Temple system of sacrifice, necessitates that the courtyard be an emporium.  If you require two turtle doves, then folks who travel need to be able to buy two turtle doves.  If you require only Jewish currency, then you have to be able to exchange Roman coins.  If God is present only in the Holy of Holies, and travel is forbidden on the Sabbath then everything necessary to worship God has to be readily available within reach of the Temple courts.  God’s house has to be an emporium.

If Jesus says, “Stop!”  Then how do you worship God?  How do you understand forgiveness?  Where do you find mercy?  According to Jesus, God has left the Holy of Holies.  He is now fully present in the Son, and will someday be fully present in the Body of Christ, the ekklesia, the Church, wherever two or three are gathered.  Like Mark’s tearing of the heavens, in John 2, God has run amuck.

I’m thinking this morning about the ways in which we have recreated the emporium in modern churches, but I’m not thinking what you think I’m thinking.  I’m not pondering the merits of tattoo parlor.  I’m not concerned with coffee shops in church foyers. And this certainly isn’t a riff on stewardship.  Instead, I’m wondering how our system puts God back in the box He broke out of so long ago.  These are the thoughts of Churchnerds, but I think they are important to think about.  For instance, in 1979, when The Episcopal Church made the Eucharist, and activity that can only be performed by Bishops and Priests, the central act of worship, did we also then say that God is only really present in a church that can afford the services of a priest?  More universally, after Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313, when Christian worship became legal in the Roman Empire and the Church moved from caves and houses to state funded cathedrals and sanctuaries, was Jesus’ commandment to not make his Father’s house an emporium get overturned?  Are the very walls that so beautifully construct our worship spaces also working to try to a) keep God in a tidy box and b) keep the “who don’t get it” out?

What does a Church without walls look like?  How do we engage a God who is on the move?  How shall we be a people of God outside of the confines of “church”?  These are the questions Jesus is bringing up in John’s version of the Cleansing of the Temple, but is this full-time, paid, priest willing to come to grips with the answers?

3 thoughts on “The Emporium

  1. What if we consider the building that we call the “church” as an instrument of ministry” – a place of worship, prayer, education, community, and solace? Oh yeah, and a place where our parish family – the “blessed company of faithful people” can strengthen their faith through the sacrament of remembring our Lord’s sacrifice for us? And what if we actively invite anyone to join us, and openly offer the building(s) of our “church” to be a place of support for other ministries of our community? Then maybe the confines of “church” are not so formidable, and maybe our Lord will look with favor upon our efforts to do His will. And just maybe we should continue to pay our priests.

  2. Great stuff as always. To bolster your work, keep in mind WHERE this story occurs in the Gospel of John. This is the FIRST public action of Jesus’ ministry in the Johanine corpus. Instead of the last thing that leads to Jesus’ death in the synoptics, Jesus is making a clear declaration of replacing the Temple and its corrupt systems with himself. It is a deeply political act that launches his ministry . . . and should likely launch ours.

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