Friends, welcome to our third stop in our Lenten journey. Today we see Jesus getting ‘upset’ over what he has seen happening in the temple where God is to be worshipped.
Yesterday, I visited one of the classes here at St Therese School, and a kid asked me: ‘Why did I want to become a priest.’ I said to this little girl: ‘That’s a very good question, but I don’t know really why?’ Then I pointed upwards and said to her: ‘Maybe, he can tell you why did he call me to become a priest.’ And I continued ‘I don’t know really, but I just love it. I just love being a priest and I love being with the people.
We can also ask Jesus in our gospel today why was he upset in the temple. Why did he do that? Or we can ask with the Jews: ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Why did Jesus turn over the table of the money changers? Why did he drive all the sheep, the cattle, the pigeon-sellers, the traders away from the courtyard of the temple?
Jesus’ answer was blunt and powerful one, a statement of authority: ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market,’ he said.
This means, he did all that ‘nasty actions’ just because he just loves the things of his Father, and he loves to keep it intact as it is or as it is supposed to be. He’s just got the ‘zeal of the house of the Lord, that devours him’ according to the prophets. He just loved it that he is willing to risk his very life just to keep his message across.
Jesus knows that the temple is to represent the presence and the dwelling of God among his people. But there is a deeper reason than that. Francis Moloney, a NT scholar writes of the intimate relationship between Jesus and the Father, and that intimate union with him is now become the meeting point or the communication between heaven and earth. Jesus then is not just concerned on the temple itself but more on to his relationship with his Father. By expressing his anger, he is calling people to inner and personal conversion. He is inviting us to remove all the stumbling blocks, the walls that we put, the artificial securities that we put between us and God. He is reminding us of the purpose of the temple that is to be the concrete point of communication between us and God. He is also telling us that aside from this, the temple is also the meeting point between us human beings as fellow worshippers of the one God.
But the temple authorities, the merchants, the buyers and the sellers distorted the whole point of the temple. Instead they took advantage of the opportunity by ripping off the innocent worshippers. They used the ritual to justify what they are doing. They think that by offering the perfect and unblemished sacrifice can really enhance one’s relationship with God. Yes it can, but it is never personal one. Yet God wants to have that personal and real communication and dealing with us. The temple ‘workers’ won’t promote this. Instead they used the temple to promote their own self interests and personal gain by selling animals in a very high price and by buying foreign currencies in a very low price. In doing this, instead of establishing good and healthy relationship with one another, they destroyed it. They didn’t provide opportunities for relationship to grow.
Jesus’ act is a corrective for this. His is a reminder for us that what is more important is our relationship with God and with one another and we can celebrate and express this together in the Church.
Sometimes, we think we are so right that we don’t think others have opinions about something as well. Sometimes, we think we are so good that we don’t need others telling us what to do or what not to do. Sometimes we think that because we are involved so much in the Church, we can already be assured of eternal salvation. If we think in this way, if we believe in this way, we need Jesus all the more. We need him to drive away all the obstacles we’ve created that stop us from growing into a personal relationship with God.
What are the possible obstacles?
Our Second Reading today tells us that one obstacle is our expectation of Jesus, our expectation of God. This can be an obstacle mind you. The Greeks were expecting of a messiah who can tell them the wisdom behind all things in the universe, but Jesus failed them in that. They couldn’t ask all their inquiries to Jesus and get an answer they were expecting to hear. The Jews were expecting of a messiah who would do signs and wonders, with huge following and strong and save them all, but Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. It was a scandal for them, they couldn’t take it because Jesus failed their expectation. Now, who is Jesus in our life?
Our First Reading today also implies that relationship with God could not just be made real and personal by following the letter of the ten commandments. In fact, by just following the letter or following the details of the rubrics without our heart in it, we can fall into an obstacle to a real encounter with our loving God.
It is important to note that God does not just give us the ten commandments as a rule or as a norm to live a good life, but that he gave them to us to love him (# 1-3) and to love our neigbours (# 4-10). Sometimes we stop on the letter, or on the rubrics, or on what is literally said, without discerning on the spirit behind it, to the extent that we become intolerant to one another.
Let’s pray then for two things as we continue our reflection on this Sunday: First, for courage like Jesus to get to the main reason behind things we do, and second, for the love of the things of God that motivated Jesus to face all odds and to cleanse the house of God, his Father from all worldly mess. If this prayer is answered, we no longer need to look for the answer of the question ‘why do we do this’ but instead we would ask ourselves: ‘Why not?’