Thursday of Trinity 20 – Matthew 21:1-16

| October 24, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Matthew 21:1-16

In 1818, Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis was born into a world of dying women. The finest hospitals lost one out of six young mothers to the scourge of “childbed fever.” A doctor’s daily routine began in the dissecting room where he performed autopsies.  From there he made his way to the hospital to examine expectant mothers without ever pausing to wash his hands.  Dr. Semmelweis was the first man in history to associate such examinations with the resultant infection and death.  His own practice was to wash with a chlorine solution, and after eleven years and the delivery of 8,537 babies, he lost only 184 mothers – about 1 in 50.

He spent the vigor of his life lecturing and debating with his colleagues. Once he argued, “Puerperal fever is caused by decomposed material, conveyed to a wound . . . .  I have shown how it can be prevented. I have proved all that I have said. But while we talk, talk, talk, gentlemen, women are dying.  I am not asking anything world shaking. I am asking you only to wash . . . .  For God’s sake, wash your hands.” But virtually no one believed him.  Doctors and midwives had been delivering babies for thousands of years without washing, and no outspoken Hungarian was going to change them now!

“Wash me!” was also the anguished prayer of King David.

“Wash!” was the message of John the Baptist.

“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” said the towel-draped Jesus to Peter. Without our being washed clean, we all die from the contamination of sin.  For your sake, wash.

God’s Temple is holy.  When Moses was instructed to build the first tabernacle, he was given blueprints by God, written by finger of God.  “According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so shall you make it” (Exodus 25:9).  When David prepared to build the Temple that Solomon would build, he said,  “the LORD made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern” (1 Chronicles 28:19).

As you entered the Temple, you moved through progressively more holy places until the Holy of Holies was reached, which only the high priest could enter, and he only one day a year.  Aaron and the priests were consecrated to serve at the tabernacle, all of the furniture was consecrated, and if you even so much as touched the ark you would die.  All of this teaches us something about how holy God is and about how holy we must be. 

And so it is that Jesus comes in Matthew 21 to cleanse His temple.  Why?  What went wrong?  To participate in the annual festivals, an annual Temple tribute of exactly ½ shekel had to be paid, and paid in only the Sanctuary or Galilean shekel.  There were Palestinian, Persian, Tyrian, Syrian, Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman shekels all circulating, but this tax had to be paid exactly, and in the right kind of money.  Where in the world could a visitor from far away find the right coin?

Not to worry, it just so happens that Jewish tax collectors and money changers have just the coin you need – for a certain price, of course!  The necessary animal sacrifices had to be made and paid for as well.  What?  You don’t want to lug your animals all the way from home?

Not a problem.  Have we got the goat for you!  What’s that you say?  You need to have the animal inspected by a priest?  Let Sacrifices R Us be your one stop Temple shop.  Guaranteed kosher!

Every step of the way, there was a transaction to be made, as well as a tidy

profit, by those selling merchandise and changing money.  Keeping in mind the noisy bartering and arguing that must have taken place in this Middle Eastern scene, we can imagine why the Master was so livid at what was taking place in the House of God.

So Jesus, the Master, sets about the clean His Holy House, the Temple, and He does it violently, with a righteous anger.  He must really care about holiness!

Today, we are the Temple of the Lord, His Body, the holy Church.  God’s Holy Spirit lives in His people, but only if they are holy.

And so Jesus cleanses His Temple today as well.  Just as the Temple in Jesus’ day was polluted and needed to be cleaned, His Temple today is polluted and needs to be cleaned.  His Temple, His Body, the Church, many parts of it, and parts of each of us, are still unclean.  So Jesus needs to cleanse His Temple again, so that He can inhabit it again.  Once again, we have let the Temple go.  We have let in the animals and their uncleanness; we have let in the moneychangers; and we have allowed God’s Temple to be defiled.    

There are actually 2 stories this morning.  The 1st teaches us that the Master’s will is done through His disciples; the 2nd teaches that the Master is cleansing His holy temple.  Put together, they teach that, “The Master is cleansing His holy Temple through His disciples – through you.”

First, we see that the disciples are supposed to do the will of the Master.  In verse 1, Jesus sent His disciples, and in verse 1 His disciples obeyed.  God becoming man, God in His holy Temple, means He has chosen to live with you and work through you!  God could snap His fingers and do whatever He wanted.  But He chose to become Man and sanctify Man and through you to do His will.  And the Master’s will is that you be holy, that His Temple be cleansed by you.

This might seem like a Herculean labor, and, in fact, one of the labors of Hercules was to clean the Augean stables.  Augeas, the king of Elis had been given a huge herd of 3000 cattle as a gift from his father, many herds in fact. His problem was that the stables where he kept them had never been cleaned. His neglect was so great that not only the stables, which were in a very bad state, but the land surrounding them had been unfertilized for many years, due to the unused manure which lay within the compound.  You can imagine how filthy these stables must have been, as well as how they must have smelled!

Hercules succeeded by diverting the streams of 2 rivers to clean the stables.  How will we clean His Temple?  You are to use the Living Water of Jesus Himself, the Master, to clean the Temple.  Jesus, and not you or me, is the hero of this story.  He has cleansed His temple, and all that we need to do to help Him clean it is to come to Him for washing.  “Come once more and seek forgiveness, and I will cleanse you and make you holy,” He says.  “Come once more and give me your life, and I will give you My righteousness.”  And then He can use us to bring His cleansing power to others.

In the cleansing waters of baptism, God cleansed His Temple, He made you a fit home for Him.  At that time, you were made a priest called to guard His holy Temple and to serve in it.  In your baptismal vows, you vowed 3 things: to renounce world, flesh, and devil; to believe the articles of the Christian faith; and to obey His holy commandments.  By these things, by your baptism, by uniting yourself to Christ and His righteousness, you will be cleansed!

How well have you been keeping the Temple?  If the Israelites of the Old Covenant were supposed to be careful with the temple made of wood and metal, that was destroyed forever, how much more careful should you be with yourself – and with His Church?

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may be only
a radiance of yours.
Shine through me and be so in me that every person I come in contact with
may feel your Presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus.  (John Henry Newman)

Points for Meditation:

1.  Review the baptismal service in which you were baptized, if possible, or meditate on the meaning of your baptism today.
2.  How well have you been keeping God’s Temple, yourself, clean?
3.  Is God asking you to help cleanse His Church in any way? 

Resolution:  I resolve to return to Jesus today to ask for His cleansing power in my life! 

© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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Category: Give Us This Day

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