Reflections on the Readings
The Third Sunday of Lent - March11, 2012 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins
A Holy Place
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. - John 2:13
Perhaps someone said, "What if those who came from farther away could buy their sacrificial offering right here!" Convenience. An idea that took root without deeper reflection. And then someone suggested there was a need for a place where folks could get exact change for the Temple tax. But everything has its price and a profit is necessary to restock and maintain a business in the court of the Gentiles. A market based ministry evolved while the timeless understanding of sacred space, worship, and memory faded. Jesus' action underscores the truth that prayer is priceless - that faith is not a commodity - that the place of prayer and worship and remembering is holy.
Herod's Temple, referred to as the second Temple, was many years in the making, and was a striking presence in the city of Jerusalem. People spoke of the Temple in glowing terms, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings. (Luke 21:5) A significant part of Jesus' ministry interacts with the Temple. In fact, he was brought to the Temple for his circumcision and at the age of 12 he was accidentally left behind at the Temple where he conversed with the scribes and Pharisees for three days. This magnificent Temple was at the center of the life and worship of Israel.
It was a holy place.
Holy sacrifices were made here.
The magnificence of the Temple exuded with the beauty of holiness.
But something was amiss. In Luke's account Jesus says, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers." The court of the gentiles, the area Jesus cleaned house, was a place where anyone could come to and offer prayers. Bleating sheep and disgruntled oxen and the buying and selling turned the area into a market place. One cannot serve God and mammon.
In the first reading we learn that the law of the Lord is perfect. It converts the soul. Meditation on the word of God, the Ten Commandments, is most perfectly done in a holy place. As we recollect ourselves before the offering of the Mass, it is good to hear the Lord say again, "I am the Lord your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." The holy words of the Decalogue remind us to never take his name in vain and to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. Neglecting to keep the Lord's day keeps us from the deep things of God - from entering into his rest - from receiving the body and blood of the Lord.
In the second reading Paul reminds us that the Church preaches Christ crucified. She does so most eloquently in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The altar is front and center bringing our attention to things angels desire to look into. Nothing makes someone unfamiliar with these holy things more astonished than when we say Christ crucified is a demonstration of God's power. "These things are foolishness and weakness," someone may protest. But to us who are being saved, the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. God's foolishness is greater than all of the world's wisdom.
To some, the sacred precincts of the Church and her worship is odd or even ridiculous or foolish. Jesus cleaning the Temple shows us his devotion to his Father's house and its relevance for those seeking God. In this action Jesus helps us to understand more deeply that sacred space offers us a place to be with God in a special way. Prayerful reflection and recollection help us to realize more of what God is giving us. Sacred space and time combine to invite us to be true worshippers - worshiping God in spirit and in truth. God inhabits the truly sacrificial offering of prayer and praise.
God gave to Moses the pattern of worship. The worship space consisted of three parts: The Outer Court where the morning and evening burnt sacrifice was offered; The Holy Place; The Holy of Holies. A heavy curtain or veil separated the Holy place from the Most Holy place. It was made of fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn. Cherubim were embroidered on this holy veil. The Ark of the Covenant resided in the Holy of Holies. In the Ark of the Covenant, Moses placed Aaron's budding almond rod, a container of the Manna, and the stone tablets upon which was written the Ten Commandments. Into this most sacred space the High Priest entered once a year on the Day of Atonement with blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9:7)
On the cross is the last time Jesus and his ministry intersect with the Temple. At his death on the cross the veil in the Temple, 60 feet high and 30 feet wide and 4 inches thick, was torn from top to bottom. In his death, Jesus invited all humankind to enter into the Most Holy place by his blood, the new and living way opened by the curtain of his body. By the sacrifice of himself, Jesus invites us to draw near to his Father with a sincere heart. (Hebrews 10:19-22) Now we may come into the inner sanctuary where he has already entered. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com