3rd Sunday of Lent
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God
The dramatic confrontation in today’s Gospel, where Jesus drives the moneychangers and merchants from the temple precincts, is certainly one of the more startling events in the life of Our Divine Savior. He himself assures us elsewhere that he is meek and humble of heart, and there is no other record in the Gospels of his using actual physical force to correct evil in this world. While there are numerous accounts of sharp verbal confrontations and rebukes issued by the lord to the leaders of Israel, this event stands alone as an example of his using physical force to correct evil.
From the uniqueness of this action of Jesus, then, it seems clear that something tremendous must be is at stake in this situation of evil which he chooses to correct in this violent manner. Why is this activity so unbearable to Our Savior? I would suggest that what is truly at stake here is the very honor of His Father, which is being gravely insulted by this rank commercial activity taking place inside the very precincts of the temple.
God is said to be a jealous God in our first reading today, but jealous of what? It seems likely that God is jealous of one thing, of his honor, which is surely the connecting link in the first three commandments of the decalogue.
God is to be loved above all else because God is above all else in goodness, truth and love in his being. Thus God is not to be replaced by any idol, including the idol of money – “You cannot serve both God and money.”
Next, God’s very name is to be honored above all and at all times and in all places, above all in His Temple, because God’s name again is synonymous with His Being. And thirdly God is above all to be honored in our worship on the Sabbath which is holy because God is holy. This honor is paid to God in the place of worship He has chosen and provided for us, just as He provided the Sabbath rest itself for us, “for us men and for our salvation.”
So when Jesus enters the Temple of Jerusalem, the holy place chosen by god and in which supreme worship and honor is paid to God, He finds this market place activity to be an unbearable insult to His Father’s House and thus, to His Father’s honor. The gravity of this offensive behavior, which obviously escaped the Temple authorities, is revealed most clearly by his response, this gross abuse of Temple arousing what other sins could not, that is, arousing his indignation to the point of physical force.
All sins are ultimately insults to God, but most grievous evidently are those that directly bear insult to God, such as this intruding into the sacred space of the Temple for the business of selling sacrificial animals and making money from this exploitation of the temple: Jesus cries out “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Even the outer Court of the Gentiles, where this offensive activity may have been taking place – and the only place where Gentiles could gather – was a place of prayer, not a secular space for conducting secular business.
Indeed, we might see in this act of cleansing, that Jesus is anticipating his mission extending to the Gentiles. So it must have aroused his anger that these righteous Gentiles, who came there to pray, were being scandalized by seeing this sacred place turned into a market place by some of the Jews. In other words, Jesus’ zeal was for his Father, and thus for His Father’s House as a whole, not only as a place of worship for God’s chosen people, but also as the place of prayer for those non-Jews whom he would one day call into the inner courts of the Kingdom of His Son. Thus we can understand that Jesus’ zeal was not only for the honor of His Father, which is first. but also for the salvation of all men, both Jews and Gentiles, many of whom must have been scandalized by this desecration of God’s Holy Temple.
Going further, we can also learn from this same Gospel passage that Jesus identified Himself with the Temple, indeed Himself as the true temple of God for He said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And. St. John immediately clarifies the meaning when he states that Jesus spoke of the temple of his body. (John 2:19) St. Paul will later establish the link between the Temple of Christ’s body and our own bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor. 3:16, where Paul says: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” This has serious implications for the deeper meaning of the other 7 commandments, for if we are truly God’s temple, then any sin we commit in the body is offensive to God simply because we are his temple, made not by human hands, but by the holy Spirit, and God intends to dwell within us.
Every sin for a Christian then is in a real sense doubly offensive to God, directly since we are disobeying his commandments, which means rejecting His will for us, and indirectly, since sin in one way or another every sin desecrates God’s temple, which is our body and our soul. From this truth we can hopefully see how sins of the flesh are evil primarily because they desecrate the body as temple of God. Our body, then, is like the outer court of the Gentiles, but it is the temple of God nonetheless, and fornication, adultery, and even more poignantly, suicide desecrate the body as God’s temple.
But perhaps we do not so easily see all the sins listed in the decalogue recounted in our first reading today also desecrate the soul, the spiritual part of God’s temple, the inner sanctum of the human temple, the holy of holies, when God dwells most profoundly.
For instance, lying, stealing, murder, coveting, disrespecting our parents or others in authority, all of these sins desecrate the soul, for they all originate in the soul and all befoul the beauty of that temple. When we lie, the soul is the power by which we lie, and the soul is polluted by the lie because that act makes us a liar. When we steal, the theft begins in the soul that desires what is another’s and intends to possess it, and so on, and the theft befouls the soul because it makes the one a thief in his soul. And if I murder, the act of murder befouls the soul which originates the murder and makes the a soul a murderer. The victim of our sins against our neighbor is not just our neighbor, but first of all it is our own self. By sin, then, I desecrate my own soul and indirectly I insult the Lord who would dwell there as in His Temple.
Moreover, it does us no good to argue, well, I didn’t intend to offend God in doing this or that. In the commandments, God reveals to us that all evil human actions are objectively offensive to God’s divine honor, whether we intend them to be such or not. I suspect that many of those who were trading in the temple did not directly intend to offend God, but they did intend to do something that was in truth, objectively offensive to the divine honor of God. Moreover, the prophets had already warned them not to turn His house into a marketplace , and Jesus was simply recalling here the moral norm of the prophet Zechariah (14:21) when he said, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Yet these corrupt men freely chose to ignore that moral command. They had somehow distorted their conscience, and they were guilty of this offense against the honor of God. Jesus’ action made that clear.
Likewise today, people often choose to distort their consciences by ignoring the law of Christ spoken through His Church, just as Christ had spoken through the Prophets long before. People sometimes pick and choose what they consider binding on their conscience, just like the money-changers and merchants in the Court of the Gentiles chose to ignore Zechariah and other prophets who decried these abuses of the temple. Now will such so-called “cafeteria Christians” expect Christ to judge them any differently than he judged those merchants in the temple?
Indeed their situation is worse. For the temple that those men of old desecrated was only made of bricks and mortar, marble and other materials. But the temple we Christians desecrate is far more precious, the consecrated body and soul, consecrated in Baptism. This is the true temple we abuse, far more precious in the judgement of God than even the glorious temple of Jerusalem.
In short, all sin is offensive to God and to God’s honor. First because it contradicts his moral law which is, as Jesus teaches, a law of love, a law that teaches us how to love God in truth, the truth of His Being, and how to love our neighbor as our self in accord with the truth of our being. To disobey the law is, then, to insult the lawmaker, the Creator of our being, and to affirm that His law is not given for our true good but for some other motive, which Satan suggested from the beginning.
Secondly sin most offends God because it desecrates His temple, His temple in us, where God has chosen to dwell for all eternity in a far, far more intimate way than he ever dwelt in temples made by human hands.
The 10 commandments then still stand, and they teach us our true dignity. Likewise, Baptism makes us the true temple of God and thus teaches us that our greatest dignity is to possess God and share His life in the very temple of our being. St. Leo the Great said over 1500 years ago: “Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and, having become a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct.” Think of that often, that when God dwells within us, we actually become, as St. Leo says, “a partner in the Divine Nature.” That is what it finally means when we say that the body and the soul become His glorious temple. How can we ever turn back to our old baseness by any degenerate conduct. Know your dignity, and you will never allow this temple of God to be debased or desecrated.