Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lenten Reflection: Third Sunday of Lent

Cycle B
(Ex 20:1-17 or Ex 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25)

Growing up you could always tell when you entered a Catholic home because either at the entrance hall or in a place of honor in the parlor there would be a crucifix or a religious picture. There are all kinds of artistic depictions of Christ: good, bad, or indifferent. There are the “traditional” ones: the Good Shepherd, the Healer, the Teacher, surrounded by children, the Crucified, the Sacred Heart, etc. And some modern versions like the young, smiling, sun tanned Jesus who looks like a New Smyrna surfer coming in on a perfect wave! At different times in our lives, depending on the circumstances, one or the other of these images might appeal to us, might comfort or encourage us. But always with the caution that this familiar “Jesus” – made in Our Image and Likeness – may be quite unreal, quite able to be manipulated to approve whatever we do or leave our attitudes unchanged. Today we have an image of Christ who refuses to conform to our imagination: eyes flashing, hot with anger, making a whip, tipping over the money changers tables, spilling the coins and scattering the animals. I’m willing to bet that not too many people have that picture on their bedroom wall! Jesus seems so out of control, so unpredictable. Whereas all other images show Him completely serene and in control, even on the Cross.

What is happening here? At first the idea of money changers and people buying and selling oxen, sheep and doves seems pretty crass. But back then in Jerusalem these people were important for the Temple rituals. In occupied Palestine, the Roman coins used in commerce had images of Caesar on them. So just as in a foreign airport you have to change your dollars so these Roman coins had to be changed for special Temple coins. Also, pilgrims coming from afar would want the priests to offer a sacrifice in the Temple so they would need to buy the ritual animals needed. So the vendors were tolerated and assigned a special area of the Temple. Seems reasonable enough but not to Jesus that day because he saw that making profit had overturned God’s values in His very Temple. He is angered that the vendors have moved from the outside to inside the Temple Court . And perhaps there were dishonest practices of cheating the pilgrims with inflated prices for poor quality animals. The victims were almost always the poor pilgrims from out of town with no other choice.
As we have noted in the past weeks, St, Mark always has the identity of Jesus gradually revealed through the miracles. The 3 Synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke) recount this event as the catalyst for the Jewish leaders rush to judgement and condemnation. But St. John reverses the process in his Gospel. He doesn’t gradually lead us to the identity of Jesus, he has already revealed the Identity of Christ in the magnificent

Prologue to his Gospel that we read on Christmas Day: “In the beginning was The Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So John moves this event of the Temple Cleansing closer to the beginning of his Gospel. He is using this event of the Temple Cleansing to unfold our already known identity and mission of Jesus to set the stage and explain the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” St. John is showing the that the long awaited Messias has arrived and He is burning with zeal for the Lord. When the Prophet Zacharias had commented on the coming of the Messias, he had written: “When that time comes there will no longer be any merchant in the Temple of the Lord Almighty” (Zech.14:21). There is a lesson about sincerity and reverence in our worship….but there is a much deeper meaning than cleaning up abuses in the Temple of some who had forgotten the reason for being there. The actions of Jesus are a proclamation that the promised New Era of the Messias has come. The Temple is no longer the Sign of God’s Presence. Now it is Jesus – Emmanuel/God with us – who is the New Temple the dwelling place of the Father. The new source of blessings. As Jesus answered those who asked what was the authority for His actions “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” They scoff and retort that it took 46 years to build it.

But John observes: “Actually, He was talking about the Temple of His Body.” The Body of Christ is the New Temple. After the Resurrection, a new, transfigured state helps it to be present at all times and in all places in the Eucharist. And our Eucharistic celebration renewing Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross will do what the Temple was meant to do: praise God in sincere, loving worship and be a place of encounter between God and man.

During these days of Lent, may this image of the Zealous Jesus move us to honesty as we examine our lives. May Jesus send us His Spirit to cleanse our hearts and minds of self interest, or sinfulness or manipulation of Christ’s teaching to explain away or ignore what makes us uncomfortable or challenges us. May our hearts be filled with a Zeal or Enthusiasm for God’s House and a real commitment to the deeper meaning of God’s Commandments—or 10 Words – which as we prayed in the responsorial psalm are the “words of eternal life.”

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.