Last Sunday’s Gospel focused on the question “what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?” Today’s text focuses on the question “what does it mean to be the church of Jesus?”

We know that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, and in the Gospel we see him exhibiting many wonderful human qualities but in Mark’s Gospel today we see another human aspect of Jesus: we see him being angry and disruptive.

The Passover is approaching and Jesus, a faithful Jew, goes to the temple, supposedly a sacred space, and the dwelling place of God on earth. But as he enters the temple precinct, Jesus finds little in the way of sacred space. The courtyard looks and sounds like an open-air market with animals and birds making animal noises, people yelling  and coins changing hands. Now it is important to note that the activity was a necessary part of temple life. The temple tax had to be paid to fund the rebuilding and its operation and it had to be paid in temple coinage, so money changers were necessary. Sacrificial animals had to be unblemished so sellers of unblemished animals were also necessary, so all of this activity was in service to the temple… but did these services have to be offered inside the temple? Was it really necessary to rob the gentiles of the one area where they were allowed to come and pray.

Entering the temple Jesus discovered how deceiving outward appearances can be. The furnishings were still in place but the place had no heart, no spirit for its main purpose. It had literally been taken over by buyers and sellers, consumers and marketers who knew how to meet the campaign goals. In our own time, the ways of the world invade the church gradually, subtly, never intentionally, always in service of the church and its mission. Jesus was outraged by what he saw: that there was no sacred space for the people, and he went into the temple to disturb, to disrupt, to restore things to how they were supposed to be. Yes, there was a purpose to the buying and selling and money changing that was happening, but it was never intended to be the main function of the building.

The temple was a magnificent place. In an attempt to win popularity with his subjects, Herod the Great in 20 BCE had begun a massive restoration and expansion of the temple that was still a work in progress during Jesus’ time. It must have been a magnificent sight to behold, but we also know that the reconstructed temple no longer exists. It was customary to build temples and later cathedrals and churches that would serve many generations to come, and these were indeed magnificent places designed and built by the finest craftspeople over many generations. As you know, I grew up in Coventry, England, a city that boasted three mediaeval churches including a spectacular cathedral. The cathedral was bombed during the second world war and only the ruins remain. A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting the Sagrada de Familia in Barcelona, a truly exceptional cathedral, the result of the work of the genius architect Antoni Gaudi. Today, more than 135 years after laying the cornerstone, construction continues…. It is not yet finished and this brings me to the key point of today’s Gospel. Jesus refers to the church as his body, reminding us of our true identity. Our beautiful buildings are constructed with love and talent to be places of prayer, but no matter how beautiful they are, they will not stand forever: the body of Christ – the church, is eternal. Jesus’s frustration in today’s Gospel points to the fact that the people had forgotten what the temple was for and in forgetting, they had lost touch with their true identity as God’s beloved people. Like the Sagrada de Familia, we, the people of God are unfinished, we are in a way “under construction”, but unlike the churches and cathedrals which will all crumble eventually, our identity is permanent and imperishable.

What does this have to say to us here at St. Matthias? what is our purpose as a parish? Churches can and do over time become busy with many activities: fund-raising activities, parish suppers, property rentals, etc. and always with the best of intentions and at the service of the church. But from time to time, it is good to consider the questions”  “who are we as church?”, and “who do we serve and why?”

When you open the St. Matthias website, the first thing you see is the statement “Church without Walls: called to be the people of God wherever we are”. We are being called at this time as a parish community to consider what we mean by this statement. Could it be that Jesus is disturbing and disrupting us in order to restore and renew us? A building can be a beautiful thing as in the restoration of the temple, the Sagrada de Familia, and our own St. Matthias, but only to the extent that it serves the mission of the community that prays there.