The readings today from Holy Scripture teach us that Lent is the ideal time to clean out the Temple of our own hearts and to offer to God proper Divine Worship by obeying the Ten Commandments and being inclusive with the all-embracing love of God. This love is showered upon us by God. We in turn must be channels of this love to others.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus teaches us that the Ten Commandments are the basis of our religious and spiritual lives. We are invited to accept the Divine Wisdom graciously given by God in the Commandments for our benefit. Note, they are commandments, not suggestions. God made us and He knows the best for us. The Commandments create a harmony between us and God and in wider society. Instead of limiting our freedom, the Commandments really help us to love and respect God and those around us.
The Responsorial psalm (Ps 19) depicts the life enhancing attributes of the Mosaic Law: it refreshes the soul and rejoices the heart; it is pure and true, more precious than gold.
The second reading for St. Paul’s First Letter to the Church in Corinth, reminds us that we must appreciate the Divine ‘foolishness’ of the crucified Christ and obey His commandment of love as our expression of Divine worship. The Jesus on the cross is a mystery we must constantly ponder as we look at the crucifix and allow what we see to move us, to teach us, and to invite us to live a life of sacrificial love.
Our Gospel from St. John gives us the dramatic account of Jesus cleansing the Temple. This takes place immediately after the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on the back of a colt on Palm Sunday. Jesus could see that His Father’s House had been degraded. In what way? It had become a noisy market place of animal merchants and a hideout for thieves who fiddled the pilgrims. The moneychangers were grossly unjust in their exchange rates, fleecing the poor. Sacrilege was endemic. The faith and true religion of Judaism was tainted and commercialized. The poor were burdened after their long journey. They brought their own lambs on their shoulders long distances. The penniless brought their two pigeons in little wooden cages. At the Temple they were told their animals were unacceptable for sacrifice to God and had to buy the Temple animals at exorbitant prices. Once they had bought the ‘acceptable’ animal many had little left for food and board but the Temple authorities couldn’t care less. The Sadducees who were the priests at the Temple were at the heart of the malpractice. For them the Temple was more for their benefit than for the worship of God. It was the seat of their power and they guarded it jealously. When it was destroyed in 70AD by the Romans, the Sadducees ceased to exist as a body – their power base and hold over people was gone.
Jesus’s reaction to these abuses is unequivocal. We shouldn’t be too taken by Jesus making a whip with a cord. It was a flimsy curtain sash incapable of hurt. The Lord’s use of the cord was symbolic. He physically overturned the money changers tables but He encouraged/shoed the animal sellers to remove their animals outside the Temple and conduct their business in a more appropriate place. Why were they there? Not everyone had the animals that were required for sacrifice to expiate their sins so it was necessary to buy them. Secular currency with the image of the Emperor or the local King was unacceptable for use in the Temple. It had to be changed for a more religiously acceptable unprofane kind with no image. The Lord’s issue was why were they on sale in God’s Holy Place? There is literally a place for everything and our Lord reclaims the space that belongs to God.
Another issue he had was that the traders were in the Court of the Gentiles. The Temple had concentric Courts. First, the Holy of Holies. Next the Court of the Priests. Next the Court of the Jews. Then the Court of the Women, finally the Court of the Gentiles. Non-Jews were only allowed to enter the first section of the Temple and forbidden to enter any further. They were not of the Chosen Race and were treated and restricted accordingly. The Sadducees had allowed the traders into the Court of the Gentiles as they put no value on this section of the Temple or the Gentiles that came long distances to pray there. Our Lord is angry because all of humanity outside Judaism is made to feel second-class people. The Gentiles, many after a long journey, found their section full of noise, bustle, animals, money changers bartering and disgusted pilgrims who were being fiddled. How could anyone pray in such an atmosphere? In clearing the traders out, Jesus does two things: He reclaims the space for God and He also reclaims it for the Gentiles reminding the authorities that God’s love is universal, inclusive and indiscriminate.
There is also a deeper message. The Gospel mentions that Jesus says: “Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up”. We are told He was talking of His Body as the sanctuary. Jesus is saying the Temple where God’s Presence is traditionally to be found (a relatively restrictive place) will soon no longer apply. God’s Presence is now to be found in Jesus, He is the Temple, replacing the Holy of Holies for intimacy with God. What was localised and restricted is now universally available through the Holy Spirit in Jesus. The supreme moment is when Jesus will rise from the dead after three days in the tomb. Jesus is teaching that He is the definitive Presence of God, available to all peoples, in all places at all times once He has been through His Passion, Death, Resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
During the holy season of Lent, we are reminded of our dignity as Temples of the Holy Spirit. This wonderful status was given to us at our baptism. We were consecrated to God as was the Temple in Our Lord’s day. We are spiritual stones making up the Temple of God with Jesus as the keystone holding all of us together. The cleansing of the Temple by the Lord reminds us that things can encroach into our spiritual lives that are incompatible with our status as Christians. Like the money changers etc., we can try to plead some justification and even extenuating circumstances. The truth we must face is that we need to allow the Holy Spirit to sift through our minds, hearts and souls and do a spiritual spring clean. We will find other things that have a role in our life but their place in our priorities is confused. We may attach too much value to one thing to the detriment of something more important in the eyes of God. This invariably happens in the course of time. Thankfully, Lent comes to our aid.
A little boy was told off by his mother for pulling the cat’s tail. His defence was that he was only holding the cat’s tail, it was the cat that was pulling. We can all try to justify areas that need to change and put things off to a later date. Let’s avail of this holy time and make a real effort to change for the better. Don’t put it off until tomorrow, who is to say tomorrow will be there for us? Do it today!
Fr. Gerard X