Lectio Divina, 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 7, 2021
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
“stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
The hard sayings of Christ are the ones we hear of least. Jesus is condemning the mingling of the worldly with the holy, and that’s hard to accept in a culture that likes to bring God “down to earth”. Any attempts to do that are attempts to create God in our own image, and replace the Incarnation. Christ is already God come down to earth, and so we don’t need to drag him down to us any further. In the first reading, from Exodus, we read the ten commandments. The first one is to put no false gods before God because he is a jealous God. When Jesus overturns the tables, it may seem like he is overreacting. But the first commandment is first for a reason. It’s the most important one. All the others fall in place when we put God first, and all the others mean nothing when we don’t. In fact, keeping all the other commandments is much harder when we don’t put God first. That’s why Jesus acts the way he does in this Gospel passage. The money changers were breaking the first commandment, and they are thereby invoking God’s jealousy. They may not have been actually worshiping other gods, but they were putting oxen, sheep, and doves in God’s place, the temple. Putting something in God’s place doesn’t always mean going to a different place for the needs only God can truly fulfill. It could also mean transforming a place meant for God into a place that serves a different purpose. The subtle ways we do this may be lost on many of us. A church building could be designed to serve its congregation more than to serve as a place to worship God. Even a Mass could focus on us more than on Jesus. Acts of charity could focus on the ones we are serving more than Love himself. The marketplace in the temple area symbolizes much more than the misuse of sacred space. It symbolizes all the things we use to replace God in our lives, and the ways in which worldly concerns interfere with the place reserved for God in our hearts.
Zeal for your house will consume me.
The phrase “religious zealot” has a negative connotation. Zeal for the house of the Lord is what we lack, though. The psalmist in this week’s psalm says “the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just. They are more precious than gold.” That kind of zeal is what made Jesus overturn the tables in the temple area. The money changers considered gold to be more precious than God’s ordinances, and thus thought little of disregarding those ordinances. What can we do to obtain the kind of zeal Jesus shows here? How can we receive the eyes of faith that help us see the presence of God when we walk into a church or some holy place?
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
For centuries the Jews worshipped at the temple, but clearly Jesus saw the temple differently than the Jews. They saw it as a building while Christ understood it as the presence of God. Christ is moving the worship of God from the temporal realm to the eternal by referring to himself as a temple. With his resurrection, he also moves the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first, indicating the start of a new creation in him and the new life he offers. This may all seem like a renunciation of the laws established in the Old Testament, but that’s far from true. Should God have kept his people perpetually in the sixth day, worshipping him in one place in the realm of time and space? By offering God’s presence to all of us through the Eucharist, Christ is ushering in eternal and infinite worship of God in heaven.
Jesus did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
Those who came to believe in Christ probably wanted him to become a great leader. He was presented with the temptation to choose great power over self-sacrifice. He chose the latter. He could have performed signs and wonders for the rest of human history, to the delight of all who came to experience them. But that would be the human way of doing things, not the divine. The divine sees things in light of eternity, and Jesus saw how all present things must pass away--so he went ahead to prepare a place for us in heaven.
Lord, Thank you for helping us to realize what matters most. Strip away our concern for all things that will pass away so we can focus better on our true home, on getting back to you. Let our Lenten journey be fruitful to that end. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Those who can’t hear God’s still voice will require signs and wonders before they accept that he is here with us. We’ve all been there, when our empirical minds disregard the important role of faith. But right now God is inviting us to dig deeper and recognize that God’s most undeniable presence is his presence within us.
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