2:18 The Jews then said to Jesus, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?  21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.

Jesus’ dramatic action in the temple, not surprisingly, caused the religious officials of Judaism, to question by what authority Jesus was acting to justify his radical behaviour.

What sign can you show us for thing this?

Jesus has attacked the sacred structure of his religious tradition. He has caused turmoil and unrest in the revered sanctuary of God’s Presence.  How could he possibly justify his behaviour?

The religious officials are understandably offended and defensive. They are concerned with external structure and fail to see the importance of the internal reality to which these structures were intended to point.

Jesus tries to get the religious “defenders of the faith” to understand that they are defending the scaffolding of their faith rather than the content of their belief. Jesus has come to call people back to the heart. He has come to remind them, as he reminded the Pharisees in Matthew 12, that

something greater than the temple is here. (Matthew 12:6)

There is a power greater than religion which religion exists to serve. In Christian tradition, it is believed that this power was supremely manifest when, after his physical death, Jesus’ followers came to experience again his power living in their lives. We call this resurrection.

All spiritual institutions, expressions, and practices exist, before anything else, to point to this “resurrection” dimension of life. When we lose sight of this “greater than” reality, we risk reverting to “marketplace” religion where our institutions exist to serve themselves. This is the demise of spirituality.

Sadly, when Jesus tries to point out to the religious leaders of his day, that they are headed down a dead-end road, rather than accepting the challenge and opening more deeply to an awareness of the true purpose of the temple, they seek to destroy the voice that is calling them to truth.

How do I react when I feel that some sacred practice, tradition, custom, or institution that I believe is above criticism is under attack? What is my defensive position in the face of perceived opposition to something I cherish and am unwilling to let go?