Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Lent - March 15, 2009, Year B
By Dennis Hankins
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Theme: A Holy Place
Christ's will for the church is that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)
It is without doubt that Jesus' action in the Temple courts at the time of Passover raised not a few eye brows. The Jewish leaders however did not seem to question the need for such a cleansing, although they did question Jesus by what authority he drove the marketeers from the holy environs of the Temple.
Within this setting we learn that Jesus is pointing to himself as the new temple or center of worship. He underscores the enduring reality of this revelation by speaking of the temporary demise of his physical body that will be raised again after three days; being declared the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4)
He who makes all things new addressed those who had turned the place of prayer into a marketing frenzy. Across the Temple courts his voice thundered, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."
Out of love for his Father's house, Jesus removed the distractions to prayer and sacrifice. What should have served as a helpful support to the needs of the many who came from far and wide at the time of Passover, was turned into an opportunity for profit making. In such a setting wheeling and dealing destroyed the meaning of the holy courts. Lining their pockets, the money-changers and sellers of oxen and sheep failed to enhance the efforts of those who sought to keep the meaning of Passover.
Jesus desires a holy church as well, just as he defended the holiness of the Temple. Although the sacrifices of animals was soon to come to the fuller and complete sacrifice in Jesus, the cleansing of the Temple reminds us that distractions to prayer and holiness must always be resisted vigorously.
Committing to the fuller meaning of Passover is to live no longer in the shadows but partake of the very substance of communion with God through Christ His Son. (Colossians 2:17) The substance of this communion with the Father comes to us through the Body and Blood of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is to this celebration we must come not with the old leaven of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.(1 Cor.5:7)
The holy festival of Eucharist is an invitation to grow in holiness. The sacredness of the altar, the sacred space surrounding us, speak to us of Jesus who desires to come into our very being. It is the ongoing incarnation of Jesus that causes St. Paul to declare in the middle of the Areopagus the closeness of God, saying, "In him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)
It is this intimacy, closeness to the divine to which each of us are drawn. For Jesus, the marketplace in the Temple portrayed a people unaware of the nearness of God. Behaving as a 'people who honored God with their lips, but whose hearts were far from him,' Jesus drove out the detractors to bring God's people nearer the God who is never far from each of us. When the Holy Spirit came upon Mary she conceived him who would one day say to the world, "I will never leave you nor forsake you, I am with you always!"
This is the meaning of our Lenten pilgrimage. That we may be less cluttered with the things that don't matter or at least are not necessary. And deeper yet, that within the Temple which is our heart, we might partake of the divine nature and become a new creation in Christ Jesus. This is the meaning of growing in grace and holiness. We are becoming with every prayer, with every act of penance, with every reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus, holy even as he is holy.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, it is ever possible to know you more, love you better, serve you more faithfully. In my life may I know the fellowship of your holy presence, and be transformed into your image, in whose likeness alone I can be holy. Amen.