3rd Sunday of Lent, March 7, 2021
Holy Cross Parish, Olyphant – Blessed Sacrament Parish, Throop
While it’s still early March and the official beginning of spring is two weeks away, in a strange way today’s gospel reminds me of that time honored practice that takes place in many of our lives as we approach the season of spring, with its longer periods of daylight, warmer temperatures and a barren world coming to life again. The practice that I’m referring to is – of course – spring-cleaning.
In my very early years growing up in Carbondale and living just a few miles from my grandmother’s house in Whites Crossing, spring-cleaning was a big deal. It generally entailed helping my grandmother move some furniture, take down curtains, wash windows and freshen up the house after it had been locked up throughout the cold winter months.
Our late winter/early spring yearning for fresh air, cleansing and new life puts Jesus’ angry expulsion of the merchants from the temple into a bit of perspective. Essentially, Jesus “cleaned house” in the temple. He wiped away the burdens that many of the religious leaders of the day heaped upon the poor souls who were trying to be faithful. Jesus came instead to bring a new spirit to humankind – to help us appreciate the things that are most important in life – and to enable us to understand what lies at the heart of a true and authentic relationship with God, through which we discover the only way to find meaning, purpose and peace in our lives.
Jesus was angry in today’s gospel – a type of behavior on his part that we’re not accustomed to seeing that often. He was angry, however, less because things were being sold in the temple and far more because the moneychangers represented the worst of Judaism. They had lost a sense of true religion, reducing one’s relationship with God to a roster of do’s, don’ts and technicalities.
Here’s what was happening. Pilgrims who came to the temple – like today – often made a donation for its upkeep. Because Roman currency, which was the currency in Palestine, was considered “unclean,” Jewish visitors had to change their money into Jewish currency in order to make their temple gift. Of course, this came at a price for poor Jewish pilgrims, as the moneychangers charged exorbitant fees for their service. … And when pilgrims would seek to sacrifice animals as atonement for their sins, temple “inspectors” would often reject the animals that the poor brought from their homes to the temple. Appropriate animals, however, could then be purchased for sacrifice right at the temple gates – typically at a cost that was 15 to 20 times the going market rate.
Jesus’ angry toppling of the vendors’ booths and tables was a condemnation of the injustice and exploitation of the faithful that was taking place all in the name of God. His actions were meant to address and eradicate the empty and meaningless gestures that so many of the religious leaders of his day and age had come to associate with their faith – and replace them with a religion rooted in and expressed through justice, forgiveness, service and care for one’s neighbor and mercy.
We may not readily appreciate what was taking place with the actions of the moneychangers in the temple and why Jesus reacted in the manner in which he did. But frankly, if we’re honest, at times all of us can admit to being be more like them than we might ever realize or imagine. Sadly, the best of us have trivialized our relationship with God, distorting what it means to be a person of faith. We’ve all been consumed with the “things” of this world that we desperately seek to acquire, from dollars and cents to prestige and power. While self-righteously believing that it’s enough to keep the letter of the law related to the commandments proclaimed in our first reading – every one of us has neglected living its spirit. Too often, we’ve forgotten the value of being humble enough to acknowledge our brokenness and wise enough to implore God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Therein, brothers and sisters, is the challenge of Lent and the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Every one of us needs to use this sacred season to cleanse our hearts – to change our ways – and to walk more closely with the Lord.
You all know this scripture passage: John 3:16. … “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” … Jesus died on a cross – not to affirm the efforts of the self-righteous, who happily point out the flaws of everyone else but themselves. No, Jesus died on a cross to remind those of us who are humble enough to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves, that God’s mercy and love is extended to all who are open to His saving grace. … This, brothers and sisters, is truly the good news of today’s gospel!