Third Sunday of Lent
Jesus’ actions in today’s Gospel describing the cleansing of the temple can disrupt the image we like to have of Jesus and of God. Jesus drives out the money changers and sellers with their animals in the temple with a whip and overturns the tables of the money changers, pouring out their coins. We tend to think, sometimes even subconsciously, that God only works in “nice” ways, or is responsible only for the pleasant things that happen to us. But God is so much more than that. God will do whatever it takes to set things right and to bring about the good. Jesus has said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
Purifying the temple was important and necessary because the temple was God’s dwelling place. The Jews had a strong awareness of the holiness of God, so much so that no one but the high priest once a year could enter the Holy of Holies where God dwelt in a spiritual sense. The entire temple area shared this sacred character, totally set apart for the all-holy God, with whom sin and corruption are totally incompatible. Therefore, Jesus drives out all that corrupts and defiles the purity of the house of God. Jesus then links the temple with his body, and in doing so, with us, for we are members of Christ’s body through baptism. As Jesus incorporates all of us into his body, so too does he take upon himself all of our sins. As he cleansed the temple in Jerusalem with a whip, so too are we cleansed of our sins, taken upon Christ in the temple of his body, scourged, mocked and crucified for us.
As members of Christ’s body, we too are literal temples of God. If the sacredness and purity of the temple in Jerusalem was so important because it was the dwelling of the all-holy God, how much more is it important for us to be holy, in whom God dwells in flesh when we receive the Eucharist, we who have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we who hope to see God face to face when we die? God has commanded us, “be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44) The Letter to the Hebrews states that, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) Jesus is the Word of God, and penetrates to the deepest parts of our hearts, distinguishing what in us is good and evil, even the faults we cannot see. He works in our lives to purify us totally, sometimes acting in ways which we perceive as painful and violent. We should pray to open our hearts to this purifying action of Christ and the Holy Spirit, recognizing all things in our lives as good and coming from God, making us beautiful and holy temples in which God fully lives and acts in us.