WHEN GOD’S HOUSE BECAME A DEN OF ROBBERS – 4 March 2018, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Ex 20:1-17, 1 Cor 1:22-25, Jn 2:13-25
Edmond Lo

This Sunday’s gospel reading could be mind-boggling to many Catholic faithful but is thought-provoking to those who love the Bible.

I remember the first time I heard this gospel reading, I walked away from Mass shaking my head thinking, “WOW! What a gospel reading! Jesus teaches against violence and yet violence was what he did! O well, he is God. I guess he can do anything he wants.” Further reflection on this passage would only bring more bewilderment. I had to question the motive underlying Jesus’ aggressive actions. Did he truly think driving out a few vendors and moneychangers would be sufficient to fix a Temple aristocracy that had been corrupt to the core for years? What’s the point of his actions? The bewilderment stayed with me for years.

What Jesus did, according to Scriptural scholars (see Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth II, pp 12-20; Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on John 2:14-15), was to lay bare the false pretenses of piety and justice of the Temple authorities’ deeply corrupt system and practice which had effectively become “law”. Jesus was there to defend the true law, Israel’s divine law, at the heart of which were the Ten Commandments, as delivered to Israel by God Himself in the first reading. Acting as God’s representatives to look after His pilgrims and worshipers, the Temple authorities were in fact taking His name in vain, misusing it to cover their crimes (CCC 2148). Thus they should not be left unpunished (cf Ex. 20:7). And punished they were – severely. How? Read on.

How are we to understand Jesus’ aggressive behaviors? They are generally seen as a prophetic sign of the Temple’s imminent destruction. Jeremiah accurately predicted the first destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C., which had become “a den of robbers” (Jer 7:11). Jesus saw the situation of Jeremiah’s time repeating itself in the corrupt Temple aristocracy of his time. Unfortunately, he was just as accurate as Jeremiah in predicting the Temple’s eventual demise: it was destroyed a second time by the Romans in 70 AD, this time never to be re-built.

From the Temple’s religion to the worship of the heart

Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau

During Passover, Jerusalem is full of pilgrims, from all over the world. For the traders it was an opportunity not to be missed. Even the temple priests could not resist the temptation to get into a profitable turnover. In fact, under the arcades of the sacred precinct, they also opened their market. They decorated the royal porch for the sale of lambs. It is said that, for the Passover meal, 18,000 oxen and other animals were sacrificed. At the bottom of the southwest stairs four rooms were set apart for moneychangers who exchanged copper coins for Roman coins which were not permitted inside the temple.

The dramatic episode narrated in today’s Gospel is inserted in this context. He did not say a word, his actions narrate his emotions; he made a whip, then he furiously cast out all from the royal porch, upended chairs, money, cages of doves. Then, without pausing, he went down the staircase, and took the moneychangers by surprise. He overturned their tables and threw down the coins that they piled on top.

The gesture of Jesus decreed the end of religion related to the offering of animals. He declared God’s refusal of bloody sacrifices whose inconsistency had been denounced by the prophets: “What do I care—says the Lord—for your endless sacrifices? I am fed up with your burnt offerings….”  (Is 1:11). In the greatest proof of love that Jesus was going to give, the only sacrifice pleasing to the Father would be shown.

Why did a Jesus, “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29), behave in this way? The explanation lies in the two sentences he uttered.

The first: “Take all this away, and stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace” (v. 16). He was referring to an oracle of the prophet Zechariah: “There will no longer be merchants in the house of the Lord” (Zec 14:21).

By cleansing the temple of the merchants, Jesus pronounced his severe, final sentence against mingling religion and money, between worship of the Lord and economic interests. God expects only love from man and love is free.

The most important teaching is, however, in the second sentence: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). Jesus’ gesture is not equivalent to a simple correction of abuses, but the announcement of the passing of the temple, regarded as a guarantee of the presence of God and salvation. He was referring to the inauguration of a new temple. He announced the beginning of a new cult. Man’s encounter with God will no longer be in a particular place, but in a new temple: the body of the risen Christ.

Translated by Fr John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Fr Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF

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