Time for a little temple cleaning!

Listen to mp3 file
3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B: March 11, 2012
Exod 20:1-17; Ps 19; 1 Cor 1:22-25; John 2:13-25

Our Lord Jesus understood human nature very well. But sometimes we need to take a closer look at ourselves: to look into our hearts and souls and see what’s going well, what’s going badly; what may have slipped, what needs to be improved; what needs to be brought to our Lord in sacramental confession, so that he can forgive and heal us. And Lent is a special season of the year for that.

At daily Mass for the past two weeks we have often heard from the prophets of the Old Testament, as the Lord had to speak through them to his People about true consistency in their lives. So often, we hear, his People offered sacrifices and prayers and held religious festivals on the one hand, but then were impure and exploited people and worshiped other gods on the other. Their lives were a contradiction; in fact, they sometimes thought of their sacrifices as bribes so that God would overlook their sins. But the Lord had to tell them that their acts of worship were not to be bribes that contradicted their lives—but rather they were to be special tokens that made manifest the love and holiness and obedience and gratitude to God that they lived out in their whole lives.

Why? Because God wants to push man down? Because he wants us to be miserable and never to have fun? No, not at all! Christ said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Christ has always wanted us to find true joy, to experience true blessing. And he knows that this will only happen if we build our lives around who we were created and redeemed to be: to know, love, and serve God, and be happy with him forever.

And so, time and again the prophets say: clean out your lives. And Jesus says: clean out your lives. And in the Gospel reading today we see that he did some of this cleaning himself.

The place was the great Temple in Jerusalem, which consisted of the building in the center, surrounded by concentric courtyards: the court of the priests, the court of the men, the court of the women, and finally the court of the Gentiles—for those people who were not Jewish but had been drawn to the worship of the true God. And it was within the Temple complex—probably within the court of the Gentiles—that the sacrificial animals were being sold and moneychangers were exchanging regular money for the Temple currency.

Was it wrong to buy and sell animals for sacrifice, or to change money? No, it was good and necessary for the worship of God. So what was the problem? The problem was where it was happening. Instead of happening in another part of the city where it was supposed to, it had moved into the Temple itself: what was supposed to be a house of prayer and worship had been taken over by the business of the marketplace.

Now this sets up a very evocative analogy—because Christ then speaks of his body as a temple. And St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) We know that Christ lived in a way that was totally consecrated to his Father, as a supremely worthy temple. What about you and me? When you were baptized into Christ, you also became a temple. Do you live in a way that is holy and set apart for the knowledge and worship of God? Or have you also been taken over by the business of the marketplace?

Take a look at your calendar. Take a look at your checkbook. Lent is the season for careful self-examination, to clean out whatever is contrary to being the temple that the Lord has made you to be.

  • Does your schedule each week, each day, show that you are giving first place to the Lord your God?
  • Do your calendar and checkbook show that you are using all the gifts of time, talent, and treasure that he has entrusted to you, for his service and his glory?

If not, then Lent is the perfect season for a little housecleaning. A little temple cleaning.

In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. (Heb 12:1-2)

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