Third Sunday of Lent
Reading 1 EX 20:1-17
Responsorial Psalm PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11.
- (John 6:68c) Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
Reading 2 1 COR 1:22-25
Verse Before The Gospel JN 3:16
Gospel JN 2:13-25
Homily—March 3 & 4, 2018 Third Sunday of Lent
We find Jesus coming to Jerusalem in this gospel. John records “The Cleansing of the Temple” in chapter two whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke have it occurring later in their accounts. Only in John is a whip made of cords. The synoptic gospels, (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all state “you make my house a den of robbers” whereas John says “you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade. Literally, the Greek reads, “Stop making the temple of my Father a temple of merchandise.” Jesus takes dramatic action to refocus attention on the divine presence in the Temple.
The activity he interrupts was not illegal or even clearly unethical. The moneychangers ensured that Jews visiting the Temple could abide by the very laws mentioned in our first reading. Roman coins bore images of foreign deities. Such objects profaned the temple and were banned from its precincts. The livestock merchants were important as well. God’s own law demanded animal sacrifice, and the poor of Jerusalem depended on the uneaten portions of the Temple sacrifices for their own sustenance. The noise of these transactions, however, drew attention away from the treasure within, God’s own presence.
John loves to hide hints to deeper meaning in his Gospel, thus enticing his readers to go back and find more each time they encounter it. In this story, Jesus arrives at the temple area and calls it his Father’s house; with that he is claiming to be God’s Son as described in Psalm 2, verse 7, “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord, who said to me, You are my son; today I am your father.”. As he lashes out against the temple merchants and bankers, the disciples perceive that Jesus is like Jeremiah whose passion for God’s work will bring him persecution.
The temple leaders are upset that Jesus has disrupted the business of religion and demand that he authenticate himself by some sign that proves he is of God. Taking their words far deeper than they intended, he said, “Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up.” They completely missed his implication. As if they didn’t understand the difference between the holy of holies and the entire temple complex, they responded that the work of construction had gone on for more than two generations, “and you will raise it up in three days?” They were concentrating on protecting a building and its enterprise; Jesus was passionate about God’s presence in their midst.
Beginning with the reading from Exodus presenting the commandments which set the boundaries on how the people of God live in communion with God and one another, today’s Scriptures are a call to authenticity in our life and worship. Paul tells us not to look for great signs or sophisticated theories but to concentrate on God’s unexpected and countercultural message of love via the cross. Crowning it all, John ‘s Gospel depicts Jesus making a clear example of God’s rejection of religious practice that is anything less than an expression of love.
The disciples spoke of Jesus’ zeal, which is a word that could also describe passionate integrity. As we contemplate this Gospel and the readings that fill out its message, we are asked where we stand in the scene John presents. Do we take the side of those who defend business as usual, ignoring how often the busyness of our pursuits and our concerns for externals blind or protect us from a vibrant and even surprising relationship with God? Do we stand on the sidelines with the disciples who see prophetic actions and remain as cheering spectators who applaud and say, “Wow! That looks like somebody who really believes in God!” Or are we willing to follow God’s Son and try to live with the sort of integrity that will keep us on the margins of respectable society and close to the heart of God?”
Today’s Gospel reminds us how challenging it is to keep our attention on God. If people can forget God even in the Temple, how much more can they forget God present in their brothers and sisters. When Jesus silenced the commotion in his Father’s house, he taught us to drive out all that distracts us so that we might catch sight of God’s presence in the hearts of all.
Jesus at the Temple shows he is the spirit-filled Messiah bringing a new approach to worship. He purifies this Temple, explaining that worship is not tied to a place but is a relationship with God joined with other believers.
What has Jesus done to turn your attention back to God?
How can you “cleanse your temple, your body” this Lent?