A rather oddly placed story – always a problem for those who need to harmonize the gospels (and many of the Fathers tended to desire this themselves) – is the story of the “cleansing of the temple” found in the second chapter. In other gospel accounts it is always part of the story of Holy Week. But here in John it follows immediately after the miracle at the wedding in Cana (another water miracle). What is going on?
No one can say with certainty – though my own sense is to part with whatever literal streaks may be found among some of the Fathers – a lay aside concerns for “when did this event take place.” St. John makes it quite clear in his final chapter that “these things are written so that in believing them you may have eternal life.” Salvation is literary scheme for St. John’s gospel.
This story falls amid “water stories.” It is preceded by the Wedding at Cana, where Christ turns water into wine and it is followed His conversation with Nicodemus where He speaks of “water and the Spirit.” But here, rather than water, we see the “cleansing” (though this word is not itself used) of the Temple. It is a story of repentance, the setting of things in their correct order, along with reference to Christ’s own resurrection (vs. 19).
Unlike the cleansing of the Temple in the other gospel accounts, this one does not have the Holy Week drama in which the Temple action takes on a certain “political” overtone. It occurs in the very “beginning” of Christ’s ministry (although John has little interest in historical order).
But it says much to us of our Baptism. The temple (and in this account “temple” and “body” are quite synonymous as indeed they are in the other accounts) is to be for God and not for theives and robbers. Our bodies become the Temple of the Lord, not the home of evil things.
I’m sure it is possible to make other approaches to the Temple story in this location. But I offer these thoughts for your consideration.
Baptism is a complete reorientation of our lives. We are not only born of the Spirit and Water – we are Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Destroy these temples (our bodies) and God will raise them up as well. But the body is to be for God and not for theives and robbers. We are not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but treasure in heaven.
For the newly illumined, there is a caution (as for all Christians): everything we are now belongs to God. We should live in such a manner that this is shown forth to the world.