46 is the Magic Number

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B.

Sometimes there’s a single word which brings out the meaning of the gospel. This morning, it’s a single number. And that number in 46. When Jesus says that He could rebuild the Temple in three days, the Jews, flabbergasted by this seemingly outrageous claim, remind Jesus that the Temple has been under construction for 46 years.

To understand the significance of this number, we have to remember what a temple is. A temple is a place where God dwells and where He is worshiped. From the very beginning, God meant Adam and Eve to be temples: in their very bodies, in the very depths of their souls, they were meant to be places where God dwelt and where He was worshiped by them. There would have been no need for a separate temple, for a physical building existing outside themselves, had Adam and Eve not fallen into sin. Interestingly, the numerical value of the name “Adam” in Greek is 46. We, the decedents of Adam, also normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes in the cells of our bodies, for a grand total of—once again—46.

After the fall of Adam and Eve, two different temples were built in the Holy Land, both in Jerusalem. The first temple was destroyed when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and the second temple was still under construction when Jesus arrived on the scene in our gospel. So, it would be fair to say that the entire Old Testament, all 46 books of the Old Testament, is the story of God preparing a temple where He could dwell and where He could be worshiped.

Jesus, the new Adam, is that temple. He is the dwelling place of God on earth, and in His very body, in the very depths of His soul, God is worshiped perfectly. The construction of the temple, which took place over the course of the entire Old Testament, is finally complete once Jesus arrives on the scene.

So long as we remain fallen human beings, we will need separate physicals buildings. We will need Christian temples, like the one we are in today, in which God dwells and in which He is worshiped. But the ultimate goal, which will only be attained if we make it to heaven, is to become Christian temples ourselves: to become places where God dwells and where He is worshiped. In heaven we will not need separate physical buildings, because God will be all in all and He will be worshiped perfectly in every saint and angel.

But on this side of eternity, the question remains before us today: What does Jesus need to drive out of our bodies, what does He need to drive out of our souls, in order for them to become the Christian temples they are meant to be? Jesus drove out the sellers and money changers in our gospel, not because of what they were doing, but because of where they were doing it. The Temple was meant to be a place of prayer, not a place of economic exchange. What does Jesus need to drive out of us in order that we might be places of prayer? What are the noises and distractions, what are the preoccupations and attachments, what are the sinful habits, that are keeping us from worshiping God—not just here, but out there?

We have come this morning to this Christian temple in order that we might learn to do what we do in here, out there: so that we might become Christian temples ourselves. May we invite Jesus into our lives in a new way this week, so that He might drive out whatever is keeping us from becoming the Christian temples that we were made to be. Amen.