3rd Sunday of Lent - - - Jesus Cleansing Our Temples
“The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Saint Paul reminds us in our second reading from 1st Corinthians that God is so much bigger than us that even at his lowest point, we cannot compare to him. God is so utterly beyond our ways of thinking, beyond the limits of our powers, that nothing in this world can even begin to approach how amazing He is. Indeed, we see this in today's Gospel reading, where the Jews are baffled by Christ's actions and his words, misunderstanding “destroy this temple” to refer to the building itself rather than the deeper meaning of “his own body.” Yes, the God whom the world cannot contain has come in human flesh, and He is a mystery and a wonder to our human wisdom, a bulldozer to our human strength.
The otherness of God is seen in today's first reading. The whole purpose of the commandments of God is to protect the people of Israel, protect them from slavery. It's a paradox, I know, but that doesn't make it untrue to say: the laws of God make us free. Free from idolatry, from binding and submitting ourselves under the power of things that will destroy us, that will distort our human nature, that will infect our spiritual health. This is because, as St. Irenaeus so simply summarized, “the glory of God is man alive,” that is, for man to truly live with all that he has been given! Whenever we do not worship God for who He is, whenever we do not treat others with the respect they deserve as created in His image, whenever we do not relate to the world with the honesty that manifests a love of truth and a oneness of our own person, then we are implicitly but forcefully accepting a form of idolatry; and whenever we accept idolatry, we accept our own self-destruction, for as St. Irenaus has said, “the life of man is to behold of God.” This is why God has desired to reveal Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ, who frees us most perfectly from our corrupt human nature and thus frees us from even the desire to serve idols.
And today we see his victory in the Gospel. The Lord Jesus enters the Temple, which is meant to be dedicated to the solitary end of worshiping God alone, both for the service of the Chosen People and in example for them. And Jesus does so with a violent strength that is at the same time compassionate: we do not hear of any attack on persons: only on tables and money. The whip Christ made is likely for the animals, to send them scurrying out of the place of prayer with one blow. And what remains when he is finished? A place of pure worship of God – free from anything that might stray our attention from Him.
This is what Lent is about for us: purifying our hearts so that what remains is for God alone. Remember that this January we heard St. Paul tell us, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” just as Christ refers to His body today as a temple. If we allow Jesus to come into our temple, what will he find. Will he see pagan emblems and idolatry to popularity, to what feels good, to money / success, to “freedom” without responsibility, to family, to “my future”? If none of those, good; but will he find a temple that worships Him only half-heartedly, focused more on the routine and on the status quo of “I'm good enough” or “I love God, I just don't pray”? It is a long road of conversion before our God will find in our hearts the pure temple that worships him rightly as he has found in the saints, and it will require some violence that seems like a death to “life as we know it.” However, if we allow the Lord to stir us up and clean us out, we will find ourselves happier, more peaceful and satisfied, and free from all those chains that idolatry so sneakingly shackles upon our hearts and souls. In this Season of Lent, let us open our hearts to the King of Kings who loved us so much to accept death in our place, the doctor of souls who hurts us so that we can truly be healed and not just superficially, to the Lord of Lords whose deepest desire is for us to live, for “the Glory of God is man alive, and the life of man is to behold God.”