Reflections on the Readings
March 8, 2015 - Year B
Third Sunday of Lent
My Father's House
(Jesus said,) "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me."
The outer court of the Temple is called the Court of the Gentiles. In this area, non-Jews gathered at the Temple to pray. The Temple therefore is a 'house of prayer for all nations.' In this area, for example, is where the tax collector in Luke 18:11 beat his breast while praying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner."
Also, in this area where anyone could pray, is where the money-changers and the selling of oxen, sheep, and doves for sacrificial offerings took place. These merchants, with the apparent approval of the Jewish authorities over such things, operated their business under the guise of convenience, displacing ernest seekers for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. One wonders what deal the Temple authorities struck with the merchants.
But we surely are not surprised by Jesus' reaction as much as the temple authorities are. Or are we? Do we understand the great hope and sign the temple is? The temple is a sign of the Messianic hope embedded deeply in the psyche of Israel, where prayers and sacrifices were made with an expectation of the coming of the Messiah.
It is to the temple Mary and Joseph carried the infant Jesus to be circumscribed. Here in this house of worship is where Simeon took up the baby Jesus in his arms and exclaimed, "Mine eyes have seen thy salvation." And then Anna, the prophetess, an eighty-four year old widow who had spent her entire widowhood in prayer in the temple, upon seeing the son of Mary, gives thanks to God and tells everyone about him who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
So when Jesus speaks of the temple as his Father's house, he's making a really big statement.
First, he understands that the merchandisers occupying a place dedicated to prayer and seeking God, had become a distraction and a hindrance to those sacred actions.
Second, Jesus, demonstrates his love for those unable to pray in his Father's House by driving all of the profit makers and money changers out of the area meant to be sacred space. In my opinion, Jesus' whip of cords is a sign of authority rather than an instrument to inflict pain. And the temple authorities do not arrest Jesus but rather demand that he produce evidence of his authority to do what he did. Do I hear a little bit of nervous tone in that demand? I think so.
Thirdly, the event draws us into the mystery of our redemption. Along with the first reading, this event reminds us that God is God. He speaks and chisels his words in tablets of stone, and fills his temple with his presence, by sending the true Temple not made with hands, to restore the sacredness of prayer. The last thing that the place of prayer should ever be is that of turning it into a money making opportunity. We cannot serve God and mammon.
Our Lenten journey is a pilgrimage. The Father is leading us to deeper prayer and to a greater awareness of his love. When we arrive at Calvary on Good Friday, Roman soldiers will throw dice for the clothes that once covered the Temple of the Son of Man seemingly unaware of the sacred sacrifice of prayer occurring on that Sacred hill.
For us, however, the Cross is neither a stumbling block nor a foolish act, but Christ crucified, Christ the power and wisdom of God defying all worldly and human strength and wisdom. On Calvary, Christ, through the veil of his flesh, brings forth his Church, a new dwelling place of God through the Spirit, a Temple not made with hands, the Father's House of Prayer.