3RD SUNDAY OF LENT: ZEAL TO DEFEND GOD’S TEMPLE
Readings: 1st- Ex. 20:1-17; 2nd- 1 Cor. 1:22-25; Gospel- Jn. 2:13-25
There are three symbolic features in the readings of this weekend namely: the Commandments (first reading), the Cross (second reading), and the Temple (gospel). Whereas each of these represents God’s sustained invitation for a committed relationship with Him, I want to reflect on the implications of Christ’s actions in the gospel, his response against those buying and selling in the temple. Buying and selling, as well as money changers signify attempts to devalue religion, to render insignificant God’s gift of faith to mankind.
In the gospel, Christ goes into the temple ahead of the Passover. There, he finds people engaging in commerce, selling oxen, sheep, and doves. What does he do? He makes a whip out of cords and drives them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen. He spills the coins of the money changers and overturns their tables, and to those selling doves he says, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” This is a stern warning, people should stop all attempts that try to reduce worship to a secular exercise.
What image of Jesus do we have here? Not the gentleman, so we may think. Of course, some tough cookie. O yeah, Christ is a tough cookie. Some like to look at the Lord and think, “See? He was human and lost his temper too.” This may be correct in a sense, but let us not fall into that. Always remember who Jesus Christ is. He is God Himself in human nature, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus is incapable of committing a sin including any imperfection. So, he doesn’t lose his temper in the sense that his anger leads him to sin. NO. There is no imperfection in His action either. Christ shows a righteous anger, a just indignation. Jesus defends the sacred in an unapologetic manner. He expresses zeal for God’s house which is a virtue. That is the first point here. God is merciful but also strong and firm, a gentle breeze and an earthquake at the same time.
There is a bishop in the northern part of Nigeria by the name of Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme. Bishop Doeme is leading people to pray the rosary to overcome a terrorist group in Africa called Boko Haram. The bishop reinforces in several interviews how the rosary crusade is a God-given mandate. He said in 2014: “I was in my chapel before the Blessed Sacrament… praying the rosary, and then suddenly the Lord appeared.” He said in the vision that at first, the Lord didn’t say anything. He was holding a sword then reached over and handed it to the Bishop. Bishop Doeme reached for the sword and as soon as he clasped it, the sword turned into a rosary. Then the Lord said to him three times, “Boko Haram is gone.”
After this bishop of Maiduguri in Nigeria had his vision, he began to promote the rosary in his diocese. In many of his interviews, he repeatedly informs his listeners of his interpretation of the vision in the following words: "As soon as I received the sword, it turned into a rosary. I didn't need any prophet to give me the explanation. It was clear that with the rosary we would be able to expel Boko Haram." Since that time, the Bishop has been spearheading a spiritual crusade against Boko Haram in Nigeria. (https://www.thedivinemercy.org/articles/bishop-nigeria-boko-haram-and-sword) He states, “These terrorists… think that by burning our churches, burning our structures, they will destroy Christianity. Never.” Jesus’ disciples recall what is written of him in today’s action, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Jesus is gentle but powerful too. Sometimes He appears with a whip and other times a sword, yet He is the Prince of peace..
Christ teaches the significance of commitment and courage to defend our faith. Again, Jesus opens our eyes to his mission as he answers their question, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” His response is, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The gospel notes, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” Jesus highlights the crucial need to defend the temple of God. Last Sunday, we saw the Old Testament figures feature at the Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah. At that Transfiguration narrative, Christ speaks about his death and resurrection, whereby the disciples are oblivious of the meaning of such revelation. He speaks again at the cleansing of the temple today, “in three days I will raise it up.” This gospel focuses our attention on Christ the Crucified and on the power of the resurrection. In Him, we derive the meaning of worship for God who says, “I, the Lord, am your God” (Ex. 20:1).
There are two ways of looking at the temple in today’s gospel; 1). the temple of worship which signifies our faith and 2). the temple of our bodies for which Paul writes, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Cor. 3:16) About the first, we may ask why Christ goes to the temple to drive away the buyers and sellers. Why does Christ say specifically, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace?” In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah explains, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Is. 56:7). Christ does not go into other places to drive away those buying and selling. He does not speak to those at other arenas as he speaks to those inside the temple in today’s gospel. Christ exalts the temple as an authentic place for communion with the Father, as a sacred place through which worship is offered to God. Christ invites us to defend our faith, to defend the Church as a sacred place, and to treat God’s house as holy.