07 March 2021

Turning the tables on
our religious practices
and finding new values

‘He also … overturned their tables’ (John 2: 15) … abandoned tables and furniture at an abandoned house in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 7 March 2021

The Third Sunday in Lent (Lent III)

10 a.m.
, The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; John 2: 13-22.

The Ten Commandments on two panels in Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer’ (Psalm 19: 14)

There was a time when the Ten Commandments, as we find them in this reading, were displayed publicly in Anglican churches, often on painted boards beside the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, so that people could learn them off by heart and understand their foundational significance for our faith.

The Ten Commandments are the foundational moment for the Jewish people as a community. Today, the curtain or screen (parochet, פרוכת) that covers the Torah Ark containing the Torah scrolls in a synagogue is usually embroidered with a representation of the two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and the scrolls themselves are covered with a mantle with similar decoration.

The parochet symbolises the curtain that covered the Ark of the Covenant, and the word also describes the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the main hall in the Temple in Jerusalem. The use of the parochet in synagogues today recalls the centrality of the Temple in Jewish worship, and the foundational role of the Ten Commandments for Jewish identity.

The Ten Commandments mark the Covenant between God and the people. But, unlike the covenants with Noah and Abraham, which we have looked at on previous Sundays (Genesis 9: 8-17, the First Sunday in Lent; and Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16, the Second Sunday in Lent), both parties have a stake in this covenant.

In the earlier covenants, God acts and promises, but the other parties are passive recipients. With this covenant, either party can break it.

For many people today, the Ten Commandments may appear to be old-fashioned, old hat. But they summarise our relationships with God, and with one another, how we come to love God and to love one another.

The first part of the Ten Commandments sets out why, how and when God alone is to be worshipped (verses 2-11). The second part sets out how this is to be put into practice: honouring older people, respecting the sacred qualities of life, marriage, truth and the rights, security and personal possessions of others (verses 12-17).

The Ten Commandments summarise our relationships with God and with one another, they symbolise this covenant, they define the purpose and direction of worship, and they express the core values of community relations.

In our Gospel reading, Christ reacts to how those values have been abused and set aside for personal gain in a place supposed to be at the heart of these relationships.

In this morning’s Psalm (Psalm 19), the law of the Lord is said to be perfect, it revives the soul, it makes the wise simple, it gladdens the heart and enlightens our eyes, it is sweeter than honey and is to be desired more than fine gold (verses 7-10).

If one accidentally breaks this law or the covenant, God is ready to forgive and to protect (verses 11-13). But true worship must by reflected in our words and deeds (verse 14).

The Gospel reading (John 2: 13-22) is set in the Temple in Jerusalem, in the first of three Passover feasts that are part of Saint John’s Gospel.

The Cleansing of the Temple takes place during the first of these three Passovers in this Gospel.

In the outer court of the Temple, Christ finds a thriving market, where visitors can buy the animals needed for sacrifice and change their Roman coins with images of the emperor as an idol with the money changers for half-shekels from Tyre, that were acceptable religiously.

The animals and the coins were absolutely necessary for the Temple worship. So, in attacking the commerce in the outer court of the Temple, Christ is doing more than purging the Temple of an abuse – he is seen as attacking the Temple itself.

Here he shows that the very centre of traditional religious worship is losing its meaning and purpose.

But is he really all that radical? Jeremiah had said that impurity would destroy the value of the Temple in God’s eyes: ‘Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight’ (Jeremiah 7: 11).

Other Biblical passages tell how the coming of the Messiah will see an ideal Temple appearing on earth. No commerce will be tolerated there, and all the nations of the earth will be welcome in this new Temple: ‘And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (Zechariah 14: 21; see also Isaiah 56: 7; Tobit 14: 5-7).

Nor is this an outburst of temper. We might see it instead as the energy of righteousness, zeal for true religion, being used to confront religious leaders who have made a good business out of the religious practices of people.

In the third stanza of his poem ‘A Song for Simeon,’ TS Eliot brings together the Christ who ties cords to drive the traders from the Temple and the Christ who will be whipped and scourged.

Christ says: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’

Of course, even in the time of Christ, building work on the Temple had not been completed. The Temple begun by Herod the Great in the year 20 BCE was not finished by Herod Agrippa until AD 64.

But, for Saint John, the Temple is the body of Christ which, as the disciples would see after the Resurrection, would be raised up in three days.

As we continue this Lent with Christ on this journey to his death and Resurrection, perhaps I could conclude with a few questions for reflection:

Have you ever excused your anger by finding a moral justification for your actions?

Is it ever right to lose my temper?

Have we a moral responsibility for the way the Church orders its financial affairs?

Am I in danger, at times, of putting higher value on financial wealth than on spiritual wealth?

Do you see your body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit?

Can you extend that image to other members of the Church, your parish, your community?

Do you see the members of the Church, all members collectively, as the Body of Christ and the true Temple?

How zealous am I for God’s house?

If I need to change the values reflected in my religious practices, am I willing to pay the price?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables’ (John 2: 15) … coins on a table in a pub in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 2: 13-22 (NRSVA):

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 18 The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The Ten Commandments on a Torah Mantle on Torah Scrolls from Adelaide Road Synagogue now in the Dublin Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Violet.

The canticle Gloria is omitted in Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:

The Cleansing of the Temple, Giotto, the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua


336, Jesus, where’er thy people meet (CD 20)
343, We love the place, O God (CD 20)

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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