Sunday, March 4, 2018

CLEAN OUT YOUR TEMPLE: a homily for the Third Sunday in Lent, year B (John 2.13–25).

You can listen to the audio here.

            We will celebrate Passover, as we do each year, by celebrating the Easter Triduum: the three Holy Days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday culminating with the Easter vigil.  The Jews celebrate Passover to remember and by remembering relive their liberation from slavery in Egypt.  Our celebration is a remembering and a re-living of our liberation from sin and death through the death and resurrection of the Lord.
            Our Lord goes to Jerusalem, the holy city, because it holds the Temple.  Herod had rebuilt and refurbished Solomon's Temple to be one of the biggest temples in the ancient world.  The original Temple was built on a hill so most of Herod's Temple was a platform upon which the Temple proper and the other buildings stood and that platform was about 150 ft high.  That's only a few feet shorter than the spire of this church!  It covered an area of about 144,000 sq m. or 157, 480 sq. yards.  To give you a sense of its size: it was an irregular rectangle with one wall equal to most of the length of the South Mall, from the corner of the Grand Parade to up near Parnell bridge and another stretched from the National Monument on the Grand Parade to Daunt's Square.  That would cover most of Cork City centre from the Grand Parade to the Merchant's Quay Shopping Centre and from the South Mall to the far side of Patrick's Street, all under one building, a huge beautiful building and the pride of the Jews.  It must've dominated Jerusalem.  Imagine trying to get planning permission for it today!

  The Temple was where the sacrifices commanded by the Law were offered.  It had various courts separated by screens or walls.   There were people from all over the Jewish diaspora there to pray.  There were tour groups and priests giving guidance to those who were lost or had a query.  It was a noisy, busy place.  Upon the wall that divided the Northern court, the Court of the Gentiles, from the others there was a sign threatening death to any non-Jew who went beyond that point.  It was this Northern court that was supposed to allow the gentiles to come and pray to Israel's God and it was in that court that those who sold the animals for the sacrifices and the money-changers had set up.  The cattle dealers were there because there were strict rules on what kind of animal could be sacrificed and it made it easier for people if they didn't have to bring their own.  There they had their corrals for their cows and sheep.  That must've been messy and very 'organic.'  With the sacrifice and slaughter of animals just inside the Temple sanctuary there was the smell of blood and burning flesh.  I'm not sure all the incense offered there would cover that.  The money-changers were there because there were many currencies, most of them pagan with pagan images on them, and those coins were not accepted in the Temple.  All this made it difficult if not impossible for gentiles, the non-Jews, to come and pray.
            Our Lord arrives and he drives the dealers and the money-changers out but with the minimum force, a whip of cords, (you see how gentle He is?) and with His Divine wrath.  Can you imagine the noise and the upset?  Animals and men were sent flying in fright.  People must've been shouting and complaining and our Lord in the midst unstoppable.  He has come to unite us with God for Whom we were made and here people are prevented from even approaching Him in the Temple itself.  The Temple was for prayer and communion with God not for business.  It was there so that man might approach God.  It was not to be made into a market.
            The cattle dealers and money-changers no doubt provided extra income for the Temple and its priests.  By His actions our Lord is disrupting the established order.  The Jewish leaders, the priests and the Levites of the Temple, seek a sign, something that will establish our Lord's authority for his actions.  The Lord makes reference to His resurrection that it to come but they do not understand.  With all their knowledge and devotion they cannot see beyond the material and the temporal.  They have no faith in Him.

            Now the Lord describes the Temple as His Father's House.  Yet He also means that the true Temple is His own body.  Is not the true house of the Father our Lord's own body?  St Paul tells us that we are part of the Body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit.  If what our Lord says about the Temple really applies to us then we must ask ourselves the question: how have we turned the temples of our bodies, our souls, into markets?
            We turn the temple that is our body, our mind, our soul and by extension our life into a market by investing time and energy into unnecessary things: TV, computer games, newspapers, and worrying about those things we cannot change.  We do it by gossip and worse, slander and calumny.  We do it by stealing, lying, and by infidelity.  We do it by laziness, arrogance and failing to live by the laws of God and His Church. We allow ourselves to be upset with what this or that person says or does instead of keeping our peace and seeking the one thing necessary: listening to the Lord and doing His will.  More importantly we import the muck and filth of the world through our sins: greed, lust, anger, pride, gluttony, folly, vainglory, by unforgiveness, meanness, and lack of compassion.  By our thoughts and deeds, by evil done and good neglected we make of our lives, our bodies and our souls, instead of temples to God, dens of corruption. 
            Through Baptism and Confirmation Christ has made us His Body, His Temple, holier than the Jerusalem Temple could ever have been.  He wants to be at the centre of our lives.  It is so easy to let the noise and the filth of the world contaminate our lives unless we take the three-strand whip of prayer, fasting and charity to them and drive them out of the sanctuary of our hearts.  His grace will turn our small effort to great effect. 
            We were made for real communion with God.  We were made for the peace and joy of knowing not that some other human being loves us but that God our creator loves us and that love no one, no thing, can ever begin to equal.  All other loves are but dim echoes of His love.  This Lent cleaning out your hearts and your lives and letting God enter the Temple that is His by right.

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