Making a whip and flipping tables… I think that it’s safe to say that Jesus was very passionate about how people engaged in worship. Zealous, actually, is the word the Gospel uses, but the point is that what took place in the temple is a great concern to Jesus. Is there any chance that Christ would be as critical toward us? Is there any chance that some of us would be on the receiving end of his zealous concern?
Here’s what I’m thinking: to say simply that Jesus was upset that people were engaging in commerce in the temple misses part of the picture. Especially as the Passover drew near, many Jews from throughout the world would be traveling to Jerusalem. The exchange of money was happening because those Jews would primarily have Roman coins, coins that had the image of Caesar in them and couldn’t be used as a temple offering. Animals were being sold because temple worship included the sacrifice of an animal, and again those traveling from a distance wouldn’t bring their own livestock with them. So the commerce happening in the temple was honestly directed toward proper temple worship. Could they have done all of that business somewhere else? Sure, there’s probably a valid criticism there… but in light of what Jesus does it seems like something is missing.
I think what Jesus is really upset about – the criticism that we must not fall into ourselves – is the attitude and the mentality that had taken root in the temple worship of his time. Instead of viewing the temple as a house of prayer and a physical dwelling place for the Lord, it had become a mechanical system of things-that-must-be-done. The people selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging coins were feeding into that warped system of focus on the external ritualization of worship instead of the internal conversion of heart that ritual is supposed to express and foster.
Christ said that if they destroyed the temple in three days he would raise it up, referring to himself. I don’t think this was a random jump of topic unconnected to his actions in the temple. I think that this was deliberate, that he was revealing that in his suffering, death, and resurrection the form of worship being practiced in the temple would be replaced by a form of worship that would be founded in his very self. We gather here and hear the Word proclaimed, the Word that is Christ himself… and in response to it we lift up to the Father the sacrifice of his Son and ourselves along with him. Instead of a ritual in which we do something, we perform a ritual in which we are something.
There is a principle in Benedictine spirituality called “mens concordat voci”. Literally it translates as, “minds in concord with voice”… but what is says is that the words we speak in prayer and the entirety of what we do here together must also take place internally. When we hear the Word proclaimed we must not just hear but listen, and when we make our response it must not just be on our lips but in our hearts. If we do not struggle to do this and allow ourselves to be here as passive observers present in the temple… then we ourselves have become the sellers and the money changers and all that faced the zeal of Christ. And I warn you of this not because I think that you do this but because I know that at times I have done this.
Lent is a season of prayer. I invite you to not only pray more, but to pray more deeply, to pray this mass more deeply than you have ever tried before. If you need a place to start I recommend the closing prayer. After communion I’m going to stand up and say, “Let us pray”. What follows is the closing prayer and I want you to listen to it. Focus your attention, repeat it silently in your heads if you need to, but listen to the words because it is not my prayer it is our prayer, and you can find no better guide of prayer and worship than what we do in this time together.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.