By REV. FR. PAUL ARIOLE
Today the third Sunday of Lent our forty days journey with Jesus continues. We started with him from the desert and from there he took us to Mount Tabor to have a first class vision of heaven last week, the second Sunday of Lent. Today, he is taking us to the temple to experience a true and sincere worship. On this third Sunday of Lent, we see Jesus in the Temple. But instead of seeing his countenance wrapped in divine glory as when he was in the desert and in the mountain, we see him very angry. The first reason for his righteous anger was because the Temple, instead of being a house of prayer, has become a den of thieves. The Jews consider the Temple of Jerusalem as the center of their religious life. Every year, during Passover, they go to the Temple. It is the feast that recalls the liberation of the people from Egypt through the saving act of Yahweh.
So, during this time, the Temple is packed with people who have come to fulfill their obligations to God. One of these is to offer animal sacrifices. There were inspectors who would see to it that the animals (oxen, sheep and doves) must be unblemished and of the best quality. But, for obvious reasons and ulterior motives, these inspectors would readily disapprove the animals that the pilgrims brought with them. So the people were obliged to buy the animals sold in the Temple, and at very exorbitant price. This system had the approval of the high priest. Most of these people usually end up going home without being able to offer sacrifices simply because they did not have enough money. The moneychangers had also their share in the injustice done to the people. The secular money from outside is considered unworthy and dirty and they cannot be brought into the Temple.
They had to be exchanged with the Temple money, and of course, for a lower value. Obviously, injustice and oppression are done, especially to the poor. And this made Jesus very angry. The rituals in the Temple have become the occasions for abuse and oppression against the poor. The Temple became the place where greed, corruption, deceit and cheating take place. The second reason why Jesus was angry was the discrimination that was happening in the Temple. Remember that the Temple was divided into five sections: the court of the Gentiles, the court of women, the court of men, the court of priests and the Holy of Holies.
The outermost part of the Temple is the court of the Gentiles. In other words, the Temple is not only for the Jews but also for all people, including the Gentiles. But it was in the court of the Gentiles that the merchants did their business and all their shady deals. In all aspects, it has become a marketplace, and not anymore part of the house of God. So those who come to this place to pray were effectively prevented from doing so. They were practically deprived of their chance to worship God. They are excluded from the Temple worship. All these put together move Jesus to dissatisfaction. He could not condone such rampart and shameless social injustice – and worse still, it was done in the name of religion. He saw that the heart of the sellers and money changers were consumed with love for money, not love for God. But His heart had only one desire- to love honour and glorify His Heavenly Father.
This was His passion, His zeal. Everything He did was for His Father, for His glory. The temple, the Holy place for all Jews, was where the Father should be glorified. It was a sacred place, made Holy by the presence of God. Nothing should pollute its sacredness. All should be done for the glory of God. Thus, Jesus made a whip and drove them all out because their hearts were not giving glory to God. Jesus cleanses the temple. By chasing out the animals from the temple, Jesus has signaled the end of animal sacrifices. Salvation was no longer to be found in the blood of goats, sheep and birds. The salvation depends on the efficacy of the blood of Jesus. Holiness and justification cannot come about by buying a bird or shopping for sheep. In his place, Jesus has shown us the right way, the correct channel to reach God our Father.
The new sacrifice required has nothing to do with slaughtering of oxen, goat or sheep. Rather, Jesus himself is now the true sacrifice pleasing to God. He has become the victim, the altar and the priest. By cleansing the temple, Jesus has symbolically and prophetically ended the temple worship. From now on, a time is coming, he told the Samaritan woman, when people would worship not at a temple but in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:21-24). In cleansing the temple also, Jesus shows great reverence for the House of God and leaves us an example of how we should respect our own places of worship and look upon them as sanctuaries of genuine prayer. The temple was not better than a noisy market – place of buyers and sellers. The traders were guilty of using God’s dwelling for their own selfish purpose of making money. All their commotion showed little regard for the spirit of true worship. So, today especially in this season of Lent, Jesus demands that our worship of God be free of deception and external rituals practices but that which comes from the heart, that is genuine and true.
Now, the questions for you and I are, how have we treated the place of worship, what is our attitude towards it? And do we even realize that we too are temples of God? Have we in many occasions turned God’s temple into a marketplace by making it a cozy social club instead of a place for Catholic action and a community of love? Have we driven the Lord out of the temple of our hearts by harbouring grudges against someone, judging people harshly, or ignoring the cry of the poor, the widow and the oppressed? Are our hearts clogged by evil habits and sins or cluttered up with all kinds of unworthy desires and worldly projects that are pagan rather than Christian? And have we worshiped God sincerely in truth and in Spirit? Friends, in this season of Lent and beyond the Lord desire true worship and sincere relationship with Him. Thus, as we are gathered today in His temple, let us cleanse our hearts of all selfish motives and sins, so our heart will be worthy dwelling place for Him. And may our acts of worship be authentic as we strive to deepen our relationship with Him through our love and concern for one another. Shalom!