This Sunday, Get Violent With Sin and Aggressively Give Alms
Your body is a Temple and Jesus wants you to drive the greed and self-love out of it this Lent.
On the first Sunday, Lent was a fast in the desert; on the second Sunday, Lent was a prayerful journey up the holy mountain. Now, on the Third Sunday of Lent (Year B), Lent is a violent cleansing of your soul to aggressively restore it to its true purpose.
Jesus went to the Temple and he didn’t like what he saw.
“Jesus went up to Jerusalem,” begins today’s passage from the Gospel of John. “He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. “
He reacts with angry violence.
“He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.” Sheep and oxen bolt and coins clatter to the floor as Jesus hurls the tables over, shouting, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
The Gospel quotes Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” “Consume” is a dramatic verb. It is as if God is obsessed with his house. Because he is.
Why? Because the Temple is the dwelling place of God with man. It is the place we can meet him in love.
When the “Ark of the Covenant” appears before time in Revelation 12, it looks like Our Lady of Guadalupe, a woman pregnant with the presence of God for mankind, and angels revolt and must be driven out. All of Eden is a Temple, a place like the garden of the Song of Songs where God can meet us in love, until Adam and Eve spoil it and must be driven out. The flood cleanses the earth to restore it temporarily, and the same thing has to happen again and again in salvation history until the end of the book of Revelation when we dwell in the New Jerusalem with God.
When we spoil the place where he wants to meet us, God gets angry. Violently angry.
In today’s Gospel, corruption had entered the Temple gates. Priests and merchants were gouging a captive market for sacrificial animals and demanding fees to change money from various regions. What was supposed to be a place of pilgrimage and self-giving had become a place of profiteering and self-seeking. Worse, it was all happening in the part of the Temple set aside for Gentiles to worship, crowding them out.
That made Jesus furious, and he couldn’t keep still.
But right away, we learn that even more than all of that is at stake.
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus says. The leaders find this statement absurd.
“But he was speaking about the temple of his body,” the Gospel tells us.
On a different occasion, Jesus said of himself, “I tell you, have one greater than the Temple here.” Jesus saw himself as greater than the meeting place of God and man, because he is God, and we meet the Father now in him.
Paul would develop this idea further, calling the Church “the temple of the living God” and telling us each that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.”
The logic is this: Christ is the new Temple; we are the body of Christ; therefore we are temples.
“By the temple we may understand too the soul wherein the Word of God dwells,in which, before the teaching of Christ, earthly and bestial affections had prevailed,” wrote Origen of Alexandria, commenting on this Sunday’s Gospel.
That means we each have a job to do: Cleanse our temple. That’s what Lent is for.
How to cleanse your temple? Make a whip out of cords and overturn the tables of your sin. Then, force the image of God into its place.
The first reading is the Ten Commandments, and it explains what to do in your soul. The first three are commandments to demolish the ways we are defiling the Temple.
“I, the Lord, am your God” it begins. Then come the first three commandments: “Have no other gods besides me. … You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God in vain. … Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.”
To do this we have to get violent with the money changers in our own hearts — those parts of us that see God as important, but our career, our entertainment, our comforts and consumer goods as more important. Overturn their tables. Don’t spare sympathy for the bestial sheep and goats running everywhere. Clear them out.
Then put the image of God up in their place. That means putting other people up in their place:
- Above all, we serve the image God in our own family, in our father, mother, siblings, children; the fourth commandment.
- Then, love those who we want to insult or harm, and refrain from “killing” them in our hearts; the fifth commandment.
- Then see God in those we want to treat as objects of pleasure, and refuse to commit adultery even in our heart, the sixth commandment.
- Then stop taking to ourselves time that belongs to others — our employer or our family — and stop stealing from the poor the money we have which rightly belongs to them; the seventh commandment.
- Then stop taking away others’ good names in what we say about them, the eighth commandment.
- Last, stop treating our neighbors like rivals and treat them like brothers and sisters, the ninth and tenth commandments.
As popes, priests, and religion teachers love to point out (and as I just did), yes, the Ten Commandments are positive values and not just Thou Shalt Nots. But the inerrant word of God uses the words “Thou shalt not,” and so that is important also. To get to the positive place you want to be, you need to root out what Vatican II called your “deranged self-love” in order to “be purified and perfected by the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection.”
It should hurt a little to do that. Or, more likely, a lot.
St. Paul says in the second reading that Jesus Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” but that “the foolishness of God is wider than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
The work of Lent is to apply that foolishness over and over again to the bad things we love. John places the cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry; the other Gospels place it at the end. That seems appropriate. We need to get ugly with our sins now, and later, and then again after that.
On the other side we find infinite love in a dwelling place with God.