3rd Sunday of Lent
Commissioning of Lay Ministers – March 3, 2024

 While March is only three days old and the official beginning of spring is almost three weeks away, today’s gospel reminds me of a practice that I experienced as a young boy as we approach the season of spring, with warmer temperatures and a barren world coming to life again.  The practice that I’m referring to is – of course – spring-cleaning.

Living just a few miles from my grandmother’s house when I was growing up, I discovered early on in life that spring-cleaning was a big deal.  It 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. 

While things have changed over the years, some of that practice still hangs on for me.  While I don’t particularly enjoy doing windows any more today than I did 50 years ago, spring cleaning for me has fortunately evolved a bit and finds me doing something that I actually enjoy, believe it or not.  When I can find the time in the spring, I appreciate working in my mom’s yard, cleaning up leaves and the debris that the winter had settled among bushes – sweeping up the salt and sand from the driveway and sidewalks – and prepping flower beds and pots for spring planting and new life. 

Our late winter/early spring yearning for fresh air, cleansing and new life puts Jesus’ angry expulsion of the merchants from the temple into perspective.  He came to bring a new spirit to humankind – to help us appreciate and 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 not so much because things were being sold in the temple.  He was angry because the money changers represented the worst of Judaism.  They were individuals who had lost the sense of true religion.  Jesus’ goal, however, was to bring a renewed and more authentic understanding of faith and religion to the people of Israel.

Here’s what was happening.  Pilgrims who came to the temple were expected to make 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 imperfect animals brought in from outside of the temple precincts.  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 and mercy.

Our lives may not at all resonate with the actions of the moneychangers in the temple.  Yet, frankly, at times all of us can be more like them than we might ever realize or imagine.  …  It’s easy to trivialize our relationship with God and distort what it means to be a person of faith.  And we’re often so consumed with the “things” of this world that we desperately seek to acquire – just like the moneychangers – that we forget that the heart of our faith calls us to something more – to reflect the life of Jesus in our love and service of one another.   

In the temple precincts of our lives, there are all sorts of things that can distract us from living lives that are authentically rooted in the gospel of Jesus – fear, ambition, addictions, selfishness, prejudice – things that distort the meaning of our lives and debase our relationships with God and with one another.  …  Lent is a special season of grace – a time to give Jesus room in our lives to help us drive out those things that make our lives less than what God created them to be.

 In many respects, today’s gospel boils down to a question:  What do I value – what do you value most in your life?  What matters most to us?  …  If for some reason, we were forced to simplify our lives and apart from the basics of food, clothing and shelter, we could keep three things, what would you keep?  What comes to mind first?  …  Your bank account – new car – beautiful home?  A treasured heirloom from generations past in your family?  …  What about your family?  Your health?  Your relationships?  Your faith?

What do we value most in life?  And what can we implore the Lord to drive out of our lives so that we can treasure the things that matter most and to live in his peace.