The ending and the beginning

Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834 – 1890), "Casting out the Money Changers"

I don’t know what it’s like from an author’s point of view, but as a reader of books I have got the impression that the two hardest things in writing a book are the beginning and the ending. The story might write itself, but how do you open it? I suppose that’s why there we have “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after”. There is no substitute for a solid opening—”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” comes to mind.

Or, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.

But how to end it?

Well, as I was reminded while reading today’s OT reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, in the case of the penultimate book of the  Old Testament canon, this is how:

And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. (Zech. 14:21, ESV)

The wider context is Zechariah’s prophecy of the humbling of the enemies of Israel, the bringing in of the nations to worship the Lord, and the consecration of everything from the bells of the horses to pots and pans in the kitchen “so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them.”

I have read Zechariah before, more than once. However, I hadn’t paid close attention to this closing sentence before. For some reason, as I was reading it this morning, however, it hit me right in the face: Jesus in the Temple.

All the Gospel writers relate the incident of Jesus entering the Temple, almost certainly soon after his triumphal entry—i.e., some days before his crucifixion. Once in the Temple, he drove out the traders and money changers, incurring the wrath of the Temple authorities.

Rightly, much has been made of the incident. The corruption of late second Temple worship, the narrowing of Jewish exclusivism at the expense of Gentiles coming to the Temple, Jesus’ authority over the Temple and its guardians, his zeal for true worship of the Father, setting himself up as the true Temple, etc. All good and true, there in the text. Since the Holocaust, several scholars have pinpointed this incident as a clear indication that Jesus deliberately orchestrated his own martyrdom (thereby lifting the blame from the Jewish authorities, whose hand Jesus allegedly forced). Not so good and true…

However, I hadn’t made the link to Zechariah before (and, it seems, I’m not alone in that). By driving out the traders from the Temple, Jesus was signalling the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy. And sure enough, within a week or so, Jesus had died and risen again, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. And a few weeks after that, the Holy Spirit came upon his disciples, making them into temples for the Holy Spirit. The division between Jew and Gentile, sacred and profane space, gone. All who worship the Lord, who come to the Father through the Son, are holy to the Lord and their whole lives sanctified, holy to the Lord.

And so in Holy Week, Jesus started a new beginning—just where Zechariah and the Old Covenant had left off.