Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
When Isaiah was writing about the return of exiles to Israel, he included non-Israelites, saying:
Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord . . .
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.’ (Isa 56:6-7).
When Jesus drove the foreign exchange traders and merchandisers out of the temple, he quoted Isaiah saying, “‘‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’” (Mark 11:17)
So what is this place Isaiah and Jesus call “a house of prayer”? It seems to be the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon built the original temple around 950 BCE, which the Babylonians destroyed about 400 years later in 587. About 70 years after that, some exiles returned from Babylon and built a second temple on the same spot, finishing it in 515 BCE. Five hundred years later, before and during the life of Jesus, Herod the Great did major renovations and additions to this second temple. Then about 40 years after Jesus’ death, the Romans destroyed it, and much of Jerusalem with it.
During Jesus’ life, the temple proper had three sections, one for priests, one for Israelite men, and one for Israelite women. Outside these exclusive areas was a general purpose area, the Court of the Gentiles, where foreign exchange merchants set up their stalls and others sold animals and souvenirs.
Jesus’ anger at them seems odd to me. Perhaps instead of getting angry and turning over tables, he could have invited some ecumenical dialogue about the problem. If I had been there I might have suggested that there was room for everybody in the court of the Gentiles. Perhaps Jesus could build a small prayer chapel in one corner instead of overturning the whole operation.
Jesus, however, was decidedly NOT ecumenical. He was angry. The Jews said to him, “What authority do you have to do this?” Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and I will build it again in three days” (John 2:19). The Jews were stunned and dismissive of Jesus’ claim that he could build the temple on a three-day weekend. After all, Herod’s renovations had been in progress for 46 years. But John gets round this by explaining that Jesus was talking about the temple of his body, not the temple of Herod.
Here are some observations.
1. Jesus chose not to defend his anger or his authority for his actions in the temple. Instead, he mysteriously switched the meaning of “temple” from “this place Herod is renovating” to “my body.” That was a weird and confusing direction to steer the conversation.
2. Despite its history of being built and destroyed, Jesus had a deep respect for the temple, including the outer court. Places were important to Jesus: he fasted in the desert, he was baptized in the river, he wept over Jerusalem, he met Moses and Elijah on the mountain, he cleansed the temple. We too live our lives in places that impact us spiritually. A temple or a church is not “just a building” — it is a place with a history, a place with meaning and memories, a place where we might pray or meet God.
3. Finally, today, two thousand years after Jesus spoke and almost two thousand years after the temple was destroyed, we still resonate with Jesus’ words, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Where is that house today?
Our father, your house is a house of prayer for all nations. Help us participate in your project. Help us build a house of prayer in the temple of our bodies. Help us build a house of prayer in the cathedral of creation. Help us build a house of prayer in the cities of human civilization.
I’m Daniel on the channel Pray with Me.