The sight of the Savior forcefully cleansing the Jerusalem Temple of its moneychangers can be unsettling. It is not the first image we think of when we set out to approach him in prayer. The Jerusalem Temple was experienced as the place of the presence of God and of where atonement for sin was sought through its ritual sacrifices and offerings. Christ intimately encountered the Temple as “the Father’s house.” It is thus understandable that he would cleanse it with a certain righteous zeal and push those persons who are not about the Father’s business out of the Father’s house. It was to be a place of prayer and pure offering and not a marketplace.
Revealingly, the Lord alludes to himself as the new and ever-living Temple when he says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” In Christ, the Temple itself has become enfleshed and in him all its elements will be manifest and perfected. He will be the perfect offering, sacrifice and new High Priest. He is ritual Judaism lived and offered perfectly to the Father, especially on the cross. This offering will be fully received by the Father, culminating in Christ’s resurrection. This living Temple of Christ is extended to us through baptism. In baptism, Paul says that we are joined to his “Body,” the “Temple.” St. Paul repeatedly refers to this throughout his writings, “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you!” 1 Cor. 3:16.
The Lord’s zeal for the Jerusalem Temple is paralleled by his zeal for us as his own new living temple. Zeal for this house of ours consumes him. Our lives as temples of God are not to be preoccupied with the marketplace but are to be marked as places of prayer and offering in his own image. True, the marketplace cannot be avoided, but it is not to be all-consuming.
The first reading from Exodus delineates the Ten Commandments which outline the behavior of Temple life. For example: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done.” The commandments challenge us to look around the temple life of our own person. What needs cleansing? Giving the Risen Lord open access to our temple, which is actually his, is a humbling act. It is best carried out through his love given in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which he established after the resurrection.
Temple life is not easy, and is modeled on “Christ crucified.” It is a willingness to enter the wisdom of the cross, which renders us nailed immobile toward the temptations of sin, and increasingly sacrificial in the demands of Love. To attempt the wisdom of the cross may appear foolish “but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Questions for Reflection
1. Where do I need cleansing from the market life and instead increased prayer?
2. Where can I learn to be as immobile as Christ crucified to the promptings of sin?
3. Where am I being called to the strength and wisdom of crucified love?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.