Mar 3, 2018

3rd Sunday - "Cleanse our hearts, O Lord."

"Take these out of here . . . in three days I will raise it up"

John 2: 13-25

It’s an interesting fact about human nature that when we are told to not do something, we choose to do it.  Typically, children will test the patience of their parents in this regard.  Teen agers may think, “Well, why not? I’ve never done this. My friends tell me there’s nothing wrong and its fun.  I’m not hurting anyone.” We adults, while pretending to be more enlightened may skirt around the “shall nots” by creating a kind of compromise or we minimize the seriousness of an action in order to avoid taking responsibility or living with guilt. We sometimes refer jokingly to “catholic guilt” which implies that there are many things, sins, which we can commit and so we live with this sense of burdensome hyper-responsibility.

This Sunday’s readings near the mid-point of Lent bring to us a clear listing of what we call the Ten Commandments.  If we only look at the “shall not” part of the Commandment we may miss their positive force.  In the Gospel we see a somewhat out of character Jesus cleansing the sacred temple of crass financial commerce in a forceful display of prophetic righteousness.  “Get out of here!” he essentially cries out to the money changers and displays those words with aggressive and disruptive behavior. He makes a whip out of cords and turns over their tables!  What’s going on? 

To the Jews the temple was the most sacred place on earth.  Here God chose to dwell among his chosen people.  Here heaven and earth meet.  Here sacred worship is carried out and the people see this place as the center of all they hold dear in their existence.  Yet, it has become a place of compromise where worship was abandoned or even false gods were worshiped which brought abomination.  The money changers, while providing an essential exchange for the temple tax and animals for sacrifice, should have been left outside the temple. Many looked the other way, including religious leaders of the time, and gave in to the lower temptation of using it for financial advantage.  It needed to be purified and returned to its original purpose as a sacred place.  Jesus takes it upon himself to carry out by this forceful symbolic action as coins are scattered, animals flee and a great ruckus surely must have been made. The ring of the early prophets must have been in his ears for they too called the people to right worship.

The Commandments of God in our reading from Exodus and this cleansing of the temple by Jesus provide a good Lenten exercise for us.  After the confrontation by the religious leaders: “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus speaks of his body, though the reference is lost, as a “temple” that will be raised up after three days. An obvious reference to the resurrection but his reference point is greatly significant.  His Body, his person and faith in him, will be the new place of worship.  In Christ Jesus God abides.  Those who come to him will meet the living God and be cleansed through his mercy and love. 

So, we have the Commandments of God, given through Moses centuries ago, as a lasting sign, a point of reference, for the sacred Covenant with God and humanity.  Yet, our present society pushes back on any sense of absolute truth or religious restrictions. However, these commandments provide a fundamental examination of conscience this Lent.  There truths are timeless and absolute.  These are not multiple choice, flexible guidelines, or mere suggestions. For if the Body of Christ is the new Temple, and his Spirit dwells in us as Paul reminds us, then it is our person whom Christ will cleans.  He can drive out of us all that is not centered on God and love for others.  The Commandments remind us of how we are to be in right relationship with God and others.

Do I love God above all things?  Is he the center of my existence?  Do I keep the Lord’s Day sacred by attending Mass and by offering charity towards others?  Do I respect my neighbor’s possessions and family members?  Do I keep my own body clean as a temple of God? Do I respect the sanctity of human life in all stages of existence? Am I honest and trustworthy?  Can I be a person of integrity?  The “shall nots” are in place not for restriction but for freedom.  They guide us to balance our lives in harmony with God and others. 

We are cleansed by Christ in the sacraments, in our good works, in sharing with a faith community, and particularly through the Holy Eucharist which is Christ himself truly present in the center of the community.  His grace is mercy, forgiveness, love and a powerful “detergent” of grace that calls us to holiness.  In and through the Church Christ is present in his Body and members.  His cleansing grace comes to us.

The earliest of Christian communities and the preaching of Paul himself centered on the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  There was no other truth more central than that.  So, this Lent lets allow ourselves to be cleansed and renewed through the power of Jesus Christ as he enters the temple of our persons to prepare us for new life at Easter.