Cleansing Our Temple
Rev. Robert J. Wagner
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he has said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
With Lent well underway, it is more than fitting to consider Christ's shocking act of cleansing the Jerusalem Temple in John's Gospel this week. As we reach further into the heart of this holy season, we watch as Christ reclaims his Father's house for its original purpose. He drives out everything that is ordered toward the concerns of the world and leaves behind a place for the concerns of God alone. While we may see this scene as a simple condemnation of religious hypocrisy or as a precursor to Christ's Passion, when his persecutors used the event as evidence against him, far ,ore is at stake. In a veiled way, Christ teaches the people of the holy city that he lone, in the temple of his own flesh, is the true place where people may worship his Father rightly and completely, and foretells his own resurrection from the dead as the ultimate sign of his divine authority.
For our purposes this Lent, however, the cleansing also teaches us something about our own souls. In Baptism, we become temples of the ble4ssed Trinity, where heaven and earth meet and harmony enters the world through the right worship of God. Just as the Jerusalem Temple was supposed to be a place entirely for God, where his peace would become a blessing for the whole world, so too are we supposed to be set aside for God. Yet, as Christ found that the business of the world had entered the ancient Temple, he sometimes finds that our hearts are given to things other than the love of God and neighbor.
So then, as he cleansed the Temple to bring it back to its intended state, he looks to cleanse our souls, driving out whatever is not made over to the worship of the Father.
What does Christ wish to cleanse away? Anything in our lives that is not directed or subordinate to love of God. Anything we love more than God, that we think about more than our life with God, that concerns us more than delighting in God, Christ looks to drive out of us. Whether those obstacles are our sins, attachment to position, advancement, honor or respect, desire for getting and possessing material goods, too much love of pleasure, deep fears or sorrows, any sense of misplaced guilt, or spiritual wounds that we carry, Christ looks to drive them from our souls and leave us in the peace necessary to worship God well. It is only once Christ has returned us fully to our intended state as pure temples of the Trinity that we will know real tranquility and joy of heart.
This reading, the, brings us to the heart of Lent's purpose. The reason we deny ourselves, the reason we fast, pray and give alms, is not that we should punish ourselves for our sins, or that we should undertake some kind of spiritual self-improvement project, but so that we can give Christ the space to make of us what we were intended to be: capable of divine love. If we have the courage to endure this purification, then we will become fitting temples of holy love, radiating Easter joy here on earth and forever in heaven.