Recently, I saw a picture on Facebook of a scene from today’s Gospel.
Christ is there, holding a whip in his hand, tables all over the floor, expelling people from the Temple. And around the image, someone had added the comment that if people ever ask you “What would Jesus do?”, remember that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip are within the realm of possibilities.
This isn’t the way we usually picture Jesus, and there can be the danger sometimes that we begin to make our faith one-sided, thinking of Jesus simply as a nice man, and that Christianity is just about being nice to people. But it isn’t.
Today we hear that Jesus had complete disregard for what people were doing. The tables were turned over, the money thrown all over the floor, and He effectively said to them all, “You have no right to be here, so get out!”
For the Jewish people, the Temple was the most sacred of places. The Temple is God among his people. The theme of the Temple is Presence. “I shall be with you….” This was their unique relationship with God. He was their God and they were his people. God’s desire to be with his people is central to all of the Scriptures. He was with them in their Exodus from Egypt. He showed them the way with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. He was present to them in the Commandments, the Ark of the covenant and the Meeting Tent.
Yes, God does want to be present to humanity, but we also have the need for localizing God in time and place. With King David and Solomon’s construction of the Temple, the people of Israel found security in, that Yahweh was with them. He had a place to reside among them.
It seems fair to assume that one of the reasons Christ did what He did was because of the love He had for His Father’s House, and His anger at how it was being used, a place of prayer had become a place of noise, place of buying and selling and perhaps even a place for being ripped off.
But there’s more to it than that. The place where this took place wasn’t the very center of the temple, where sacrifices were offered in worship to God, it was one of the outer parts of the Temple, called the Court of the Gentiles. Gentiles non-Jews, were not allowed in the Temple, but this was where they were allowed to congregate. By clearing this place of the money changers and animals sellers, Christ was making a place for them. When He later died on the Cross, His Death was to break down the divisions between the Jews and Gentiles, uniting them as one in His Church. So there is a bit of symbolism here too. But because Jesus was so violent in expelling people from this part of the Temple, this can’t have been the only reason. In fact we hear, “Zeal for your house will devour me”.
What we have in our Churches today, vastly exceeds the Jewish Temple. The Jews believed that in the Most Holy Place of their Temple, God’s very presence was there, making it holy. In our churches we have that presence in an even fuller way, in the tabernacle. Christ dwells there, present, not only with his divinity, but also with His Body, Blood and soul. If the Jews were supposed to hold their Temple in such high regard (although we see today that it wasn’t always the case), then how much more regard should we have for the presence of Christ in our churches, what Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to as “the beating heart of our churches”.
That is why, when we enter into church, it should never be a matter of indifference to us that Christ is present here. It’s why, when we enter the church, or pass the tabernacle, we should bow or genuflect in reverence to Almighty God. Then, of course, once we have entered the pew, we spend time in prayer before the presence of the Lord, in intimate conversation with Him, as a way of preparing ourselves for the celebration of Holy Mass.
Jesus is the new Temple of the Lord. He is the new Meeting Tent. He is the life of God among the people. Jesus says that his Spirit lives among us and that our bodies become the Temple of the Spirit. We can meet God now in our temple because Jesus is really present here in a unique way. When we gather together he is present with us and in us in our community and in each other.
Lent is a time for us to ponder how we live this presence of the Lord. How do I worship the Lord? Is it through Jesus, his teachings, his example, his commandments? How do I share with others God’s life in me? Do others experience God’s compassion, his love, his understanding in me and through my life’s actions? Do others witness his forgiveness, his peace, his charity in me and through me? Or have I let the Temple of the Lord in me become a den of thieves and traders, profiteers and abusers? Have I moved to false worship; giving more of myself, time and resources to gods I create?: money, status, power, control, work, sex and alcohol? Is there cleansing that is needed in me? Do I treat my body as a temple of God’s spirit? Or do I abuse it by not taking care of my health, not respecting the parts of my body?
I need to ask also how I relate to others with and through this body. What do I need to do so that others experience God’s life in me? Where do my children, my family, my friends, my co-workers see that God does live in me? How do I respect them, their dignity, their uniqueness? How do I demonstrate that I meet God through them?
The whole problem with sin is that we look for satisfaction in the wrong things. Our hearts, ultimately, yearn for God, but we fill them with junk instead.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning how today’s Gospel ends. The message to the reader is clear: don’t think that Christ’s anger at sin applied just to those in the Temple that day. Watch out, because He can read your heart as well!
Finally, the challenge of Jesus to the Jewish authorities is worth considering. He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). The evangelist, St. John, was quick to explain: “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (Jn 2:21). In other words, he was referring to his physical body as the Temple. If God resides in the temple, so also the body of Jesus is God’s Temple for he is himself the God Incarnate. When he was talking about his body, he knew that, if they could do this to God’s temple, one day they would take him and he would be the sacrifice and they would drive him up a hill and they would crucify him. And he must have seen that very clear. But he also knew Scriptures. He knew that God Himself, his Father, was sending him to lay his life down that he might redeem the world and open another chapter in God’s relationship with mankind, a chapter that would reach the farthest ends of the earth. God Himself becomes man. No one can say that he does not know what it means to be a human being, to suffer pain, to have expectations shattered and, finally, to have to face death. He knew that in his heart.
Jesus cleansed the Temple when he saw what it had become and to remind us all that it is through him, with him and in him that we meet the Father. Because the Messiah has come to us in Jesus. He has come to be with us. He has come to encourage us. He has come to heal us. When you say, “Where is the Messiah?” He is here in his church he is in the community, he is in you, he is in each other. Yes, this is where we meet him today. This is where we begin to look into our own lives.
As we come together in this Temple of God, our church, let us cleanse our hearts of all selfish motives and sins. May our heart be a worthy dwelling place for God. And may our acts of worship be authentic as we strive to deepen our relationship with God through our love and concern for one another.