Mar 8, 2012

3rd Sunday of Lent: The "in your face" Jesus

Jesus drives out the money changers - El Greco

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

I wonder how often we think of the Ten Commandments in any serious way.  By that I mean, if you were asked to list them, without looking at the first reading today for example, could you do so? Although they have been around for thousands of years do we ever really take the time to reflect on them? Yet, they are foundational to our moral lives and our social behavior.
This Sunday in the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus, as we hear in John’s Gospel, we are challenged to look to the first and the greatest of the Commandments – our relationship with God: “I the Lord am your God . . . you shall not have other gods besides me.”
In the listing of the great “You shall not’s” we may feel a bit like God is shaking his finger at us with a scowl on his face.  We, in our adolescent rebelliousness, may want to say, “Why can’t I?”  Certainly in today’s more tolerant secular culture, to hear “you shall not” would be considered restrictive or inappropriate.
But these Ten Commandments offer us not a God who wants to restrict life or spoil our good time but rather a God who cares enough to show us a path to salvation.  A God who wants to offer us a way out of our confusion and show us the way to joy and fulfillment as a person created in his image.
The moral applications of the Commandments are many but they all come down to two Commandments: Love of God and Love of Neighbor. This weekend’s Gospel reading in essence provides for us the way to keep God at the center of our lives and our worship. But, it seems there is an even more fundamental question to ask ourselves: “What do I worship?”

The Gospel presents a Jesus whose behavior is unnerving.  In that outer court of the Gentiles surrounding the sacred Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus is about as subtle as a kick in the pants.  We’d rather hold on to the image that Jesus would have never raised his voice but spoken in gentle, consoling tones.  But, this watershed moment in the public ministry of Jesus, in which he reacts with anger bordering on rage, presents for us the righteousness of God who seeks our integrity in life and worship.
The great issue for the ancient Jews was the lack of connection between sacred worship and one’s life. It was believed that by simply keeping the Temple rituals God would look favorably on his people regardless of their personal lives – or other gods which they “worshiped.”
The present culture under which we live certainly does present to us a vast variety of attractions.  If we are not more vigilant we could easily find any one of them as that which gains the majority of attention in my life.  When times get tough we may go to those gods seeking comfort or strength.  But, we are called to a higher way of life.
The action of Jesus in the Temple is a kind of house cleaning.  In an area that was meant to be for sacred worship, the presence of the money changers taking advantage of the populace heading in for temple sacrifice, mix false gods in place of the true one.
So naming what I worship stands at the center of my life: money, power, fame, sex, prestige, other people, my reputation, addictions, etc? Are these false gods in my life? Is it they which stand at the core of my meaning and purpose and if so, where is God for me?
Yet, the point of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple was to emphasize his role as the Messiah; to rid sacred worship of hypocrisy and to emphasize the connection between our lives and our worship of God.  The God of Israel is for everyone and all are called to integrity of heart and life. We may see that as a direct challenge to our own lives as we approach Holy Week and Easter. Is he truly at the center of my life and that which I hold most dear – What do I worship?
I recently heard of a wonderful quote by Pope Paul VI.  He was the Pope in the very unenviable position of implementing the reforms of Vatican II.  The Pope said: ““When it’s easy to be a Catholic, it’s actually harder to be a good Catholic; and when it’s hard to be a good Catholic, it’s actually easier to be one.”
In other words, when our faith is truly on the line or when we take it seriously enough to see there are times I will be challenged and present morality that is at odds with popular culture, then I can be all the better of a faithful Catholic-Christian. For, as our reading indicates to us this weekend, morality is not determined by popular vote or a 24 hour news programs or a sociological study of people’s individual choices.
Rather the morality we follow which is God’s gift to us and for which Jesus rid the Temple of false gods, is a revealed truth from God (Ten Commandments) lived out in the experience of the Church over time and finds its base in the natural order of things.
No, it isn’t easy or comfortable at times for sure.  Our daily house cleaning is emphasized all the more during this Lent.  But, as the late Pope Paul VI said, “When it’s hard to be a good Catholic, it’s actually easier to be one.”