by Brett Witcher
January 21, 2013 was one of the most difficult days of my life. It was one of those cold, dreary days where all you can see is gray and it feels as if you will never escape the wind that persistently cuts like a knife. Around 11:00am, dressed in my gray suit, I stood—nervous and unsure if I could get through the next few minutes—before a crowd of family and friends and began officiating the funeral of my mentor, my best friend, and my grandpa, J.C. Witcher. It’s difficult to remember exactly what was said as I tried to tell stories that reflected the life of one of the most compassionate people I had ever met. The thing I do remember sharing is the greatest lesson J.C. taught me. While he was devout in practicing the disciplines (especially prayer and reading scripture), the one thing grandpa always embodied was the truth and understanding that to follow the way of Jesus means a continual overturning of tables in our lives, so that our love for God and people can be renewed and deepened again and again. If our rules, customs, and traditions cause us to exclude or fear another person then maybe we need to rethink and redefine the meaning.
In our text, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover and enters the temple courts where he finds a market of animals for sacrifice. And, before anybody can realize what is happening, he has made a whip and is beginning to drive people out of the temple. Of course, this does not sit well with Jewish leaders and they demand that he provide proof of his authority for his actions. Jesus, in Jesus fashion, says, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Umm, okay Jesus, sure. How can you rebuild a temple in three days that originally took forty-six years to build? While the leaders and his disciples (before his resurrection) did not understand this saying, the writer of John’s gospel explains the theological meaning that Jesus is speaking to the temple of his body. In this prophetic act of overturning tables and running people out of the temple courts, Jesus is not giving us a model on how to use violence when necessary, but redefining and taking us deeper in our worship, in our identity, and in our mission. Inside a temple that operates through rules, customs, and traditions that separate Jew and Gentile, male and female, sacred and secular, Jesus is reshaping its very definition within himself.
Jesus tells us that his body is the location of God. As Karoline Lewis, Professor of Preaching at Luther Seminary, writes, “God chose to localize love in a human body. God decided that becoming human was a good idea.” And, this changes and continues to change everything. In Jesus, we too find that our own bodies are a temple of God. My grandfather understood and daily grew in his understanding that his body was an expression of the Gospel. Lent is a time where we can look deeply within our own temples to find what tables need overturning, so we can see with fresh eyes at how God is calling and moving us to redefine and go deeper in our love for him and others. Many times our religion causes us to become complacent, exclusionary people, but in Jesus we are called to a new way of being human. May our prayer be that of the psalmist: “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:12-14, NIV).
Brett Witcher is an artist, Youth Director at Lane Memorial United Methodist Church in Altavista, VA, and the Executive Director of the Altavista Area/Campbell County Habitat for Humanity. Brett is passionate about cultivating an artistic expression within the life of the Church.