More than “Just a Memory”

man praying at western wall
Photo credit: <a href="">Brian Jeffery Beggerly</a>

John 2:13-22

Just before the Jewish Passover, Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found the vendors selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the bankers were also there. He made a whip out of rope and chased all of them out of the temple. He drove out the cattle and sheep, spilled the bankers’ cash boxes everywhere, knocked their kiosks over, and told the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Quit making God’s house into a strip mall!”

His students remembered the verse: “I’m obsessed by my devotion to your house.”

The Jewish leaders asked him, “Who gave you permission to do this? Show us a miracle to prove it.”

Jesus answered, “Demolish this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.”

“This temple has been under construction for 46 years!” they said. “And you’re telling us you can do better in 3 days?”

He was referring to his body as a temple. After he returned from the dead, his students remembered what he’d said. Only then they embraced what was written, and what Jesus had said.

In Mark, Luke, and Matthew, the story of Jesus’ temple invasion comes at the end of the story, where it’s the final straw of Jesus’ opposition to the establishment, and sets in motion the events leading to the crucifixion.

A generation later, John tells it near the beginning of the story. The political tension is gone. With the conclusion of the episode, Jesus walks out of the temple as easily as he had walked in. Instead, John uses the story to make a point about the community’s collective memory.

Twice, John tells us, the disciples remembered. As the episode ends, John ties their remembrance to their belief, to their commitment.

Communities can use memory either as a help or a hindrance, and there are plenty of examples of both, and in churches they often center around buildings.

On the one hand, Jesus is obsessed with the proper use of the building, and this obsession becomes a mnemonic touchstone of his followers. On the other hand, the proper use of the building is not really about the building, but about Jesus and what he will do to break free of faith bound to time and materials. John holds these two memories in a balance that prevents them from deteriorating into mere nostalgia (remember the good old days), or turning the means of ministry (a building) into the end itself (God).

At it’s best, community memory is a means of embracing what has been to propel the community forward, not to hold it down to an ideal time or place.