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cappie

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

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cappie

By all accounts, the temple in Jerusalem was a magnificent building.  It was built on a site chosen by King David, the same site where King Solomon built the first temple.  That first temple lasted nearly 400 years and was the pride of Israel. To visitors, especially those who had never been to Jerusalem before, it was impressive and awe-inspiring.  Its location, atop Mt. Zion, allowed it to be seen before the rest of the city came into view, making it the focal point of all who entered the city.  The architecture was designed to turn their attention to the God of Israel, the God who made the heavens and the earth, the God who ordered all of life.

So, why did Jesus become so angry when he saw his father’s house being made into a marketplace? The Old Testament lesson gives us many clues to the answer. Idolatry of any kind was forbidden by God.  The High Priests, had ordered that Roman money should be converted to the shekel to be acceptable for Temple business. In that exchange, a great profit went into the coffers of these same priests. Jesus knew that this was both profanity of the Temple and exploitation of the poor citizens. It was another form of idolatry, but this time the idol was Mammon, a god ever present both then and now.

Jesus also knew that his acts in the courtyard of the Temple would bring him in direct conflict with these same high priests, but nothing ever stopped him from obeying the will of his Father. Jesus is very popular with the people, so the priests don’t dare touch him. As his interpretation of who God is and what God demands of us continues throughout the land, he becomes a stumbling block to the high priests, and the people, not getting the signs that they demand, agree to his death.  They don’t dare touch him, but their desire to see him dead begins on that day.

In a few years St. Paul will articulate it very clearly to the Corinthians. The Jews, were scandalized by Jesus’ courage, by his claim to know the mind of his father, by his willingness to meet his death without any retaliation or violence. To the Gentiles, with whom Paul is sharing what he learned from Christ, all this is foolishness.  St. Paul summarizes the reaction to the acts of Jesus in brilliant brevity: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

In today’s gospel story, St. John shows the scandalous activity of Jesus in all its glory. The piety that had become idolatry and had allowed physical structures to take the place of a God who demanded, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Our culture has forgotten this command also, and so many signs or symbols have been turned into idols; money that should be used to educate and feed children becomes an idolatrous acquisition for those who already have too much of it, while our streets fill with homeless people; and other, old symbols of the evil of violence return to trouble our dreams.

We need Jesus’ courage to cleanse the temples of idolatry, for his kind of integrity that dares to call out the oppressors, no matter who they are. For the power to overthrow the tables of the moneychangers who cheat the poor and the voiceless.  You see, no matter how ornate the sanctuary, no matter how elaborates the architecture, no matter how meaningful the liturgy, if the time we spend in worship does not turn our hearts toward God and God’s justice then it is no different than having money changers in the temple precincts.

As we approach Holy Week, we need the love and the passion that can sustain us even unto death. We will be laughed at when we too resist the culture of the day, but we will remember with St. Paul that, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Let us be aware, more than ever during this season of Lent, that the power of God goes with us.

 

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