Homily for March 8, 2015: 3rd Sunday of Lent: Msgr. Jim Miller

Third Sunday of Lent

March 8, 2015

Reading 1 Ex 20:1-17

Responsorial Psalm Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

Reading 2 1 Cor 1:22-25

Gospel Jn 2:13-25

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Before God speaks the Ten Words to the Israelites, the ancient author has God offer a self-introduction:  “This is the God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.”   That sets the tone for what follows.  The Ten Commandments are to be understood as the terms of the relationship between God and Israel, redeemer and redeemed.

We can use the Ten Commandments as our guide for an examination of conscience each evening before going to sleep as long as we think about where and how we did respond as faithful disciples as well as where we failed.   We could also use the two great commandments for this examen as we look at what takes priority in our lives and how do we treat others.

A good confession is determined by how well we engage ourselves in letting God stare us in the eye.   In other words, a good confession is determined by how well we perform our “examination of conscience.”  In this examination we confront our real fear:  the truth.  Facing ourselves and admitting the faults and sins in our lives to ourselves is actually much more fear-inducing than telling a priest our sins.  We forget that, after we face ourselves, all else is really quite easy.

Unlike the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) who placed the temple cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry and as one of the factors that led to his arrest and death, John places it near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  It served John’s theological and Christological purposes to place the narrative where he did.  The temple cleansing served to announce the fulfillment of messianic expectations.

When Jesus entered the temple area that day and disrupted the sellers and moneychangers, he was not the first to call attention to such behavior.  Jeremiah (7:11) warned the priests of his day that the temple had become a den of thieves.  Zechariah (14:21) had promised that on the Day of the Lord, no merchant would be found in the temple.  The author of Malachi (8:1) castigated the clergy for a variety of abuses in the temple liturgy.  Isaiah (15:7) had prophesied that the temple would become a house of prayer that would attract all the nations of the earth.   Fr. Raymond Brown wrote, “Thus, an action by Jesus of purifying the temple area by correcting abuses would have been perfectly understandable in light of the claim that he was a prophet and even the Messiah”.

Actually animals and money changers were needed for people to be able to offer sacrifices at the temple.   The problem was twofold, they had moved closer and closer to the temple until they ended up in the temple itself.   The second problem was avarice.   Instead of making a reasonable amount on each transaction they were taking advantage of the people, especially the poor.   Only John has Jesus making a whip out of cords and driving the people and animals out of the temple area.

It is noteworthy that while the Synoptics reported the temple cleansing and Jesus’ prophecy of the temple’s destruction as separate events, the fourth evangelist related the two incidents very closely.  In verse 21 Jesus says “Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up.  Those present assumed that Jesus was speaking of the temple that Herod began to renovate around 20-19 B.C.E.  It was still being restored during Jesus ministry and would only be completed around 63 or 64 C.E.  But Jesus was speaking about himself.  To further clarify that it was Jesus, and not the Jerusalem temple, to which he was referring, the evangelist changed the synoptic reference “I will build it up” to I will raise it up.”  He also used the same technical term used for the resurrection of Jesus.

The gospel ends with “many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.  But Jesus would not trust himself to them”.  Implied in these verses is the idea that a faith based solely on signs is not sufficient.  Rather, faith comes from being in a committed relationship with Jesus, who, as Son of God, knows the human heart.  Fr. Raymond Brown writes, “He has come from God; he remains united to God and, therefore, he has God’s power of knowing man’s inmost thoughts”.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Among the miracles, the greatest could be the sign in which Jesus by himself drove from the Temple a crowd of men with a whip of small cords.”  The fact that Jesus understands human nature well is a liberation—it frees us to go to him in confidence just the way we are.   Think about how Jesus treated the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, and the account of the prodigal son.    Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself.