Jesus cleanses the Temple
We typically do not see holy cards, paintings, statues, or stained glass windows depicting Jesus armed with a whip of cords, flipping over tables, and releasing sheep and oxen while cleansing the temple. In fact, the whole scene makes some people very uncomfortable. We have this image in our minds that religion must be nice and polite, that Jesus must never offend anyone and be sweet and well-mannered.
Many Christians certainly can’t allow for Jesus to experience any human emotion. But this is not true to the gospel, is it? Jesus was fully human. He knew love, joy, anger, sadness, and even betrayal and the pain of death.
Yet when it comes to religion, or more properly, the exercise of our Christian call –making real our baptismal promises and living our faith in Jesus - well, now, for some, that’s a bit much.
Yes, there is something dreadfully jarring about the gospel – we are called to reach out to the loveless and to confront hypocrisy. Jesus jolts us out of our complacency and calls us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who hate us. His Word compels us to disturb the status quo that allows the least among us to barely survive.
There is something aggressive about Lent. We fast, we give alms, we pray more fervently. We are called to live more simply as we reflect on the reality that many others simply live from day to day. The Lenten fast is often a battle, indeed a struggle – and we know that Lent began with Jesus being tempted by Satan in the dry wilderness of the Desert.
There is something terribly excessive, surprising, startling about Jesus. His words of "Do not think I have come to bring peace" and "Your enemies will be those in your own household."
The Passion and death of Jesus are violent. His arrest, his scourging, the crowning with thorns, his carrying the cross, his falling under the weight of the cross, his crucifixion, being nailed through his hands and his feet, and being pierced through his heart are all very violent acts. Yet in this startling violence is our peace.
As St. Paul wrote: “Christ crucified, is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” A crucifix is a startling image. Jesus states: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
If we allow the words of Christ to change our lives, that might render a holy, but violent upheaval in our lives. When Jesus cleansed the Temple somewhere someone began sawing the lumber for his cross.
What tables of hypocrisy or self-righteousness might we overturn if we seek to include the outsiders? Or what trouble might we “whip up” if we dare to love our enemies? What release will we provide for the poor and downtrodden if we proclaim and live the message that the “least among us are the greatest.”
Jesus built a church based on the faith of His disciples. He promises to Simon Peter that “The gates of the hell shall not prevail against it.” We as Christians, living the kingdom of God, should be pounding down the gates of hell’s demonic kingdom with our prayers, our sacrifices, our alms. We must be on the offense – again called to a holy fervor. We cannot sit idly by while Satan does his business. We are called to be a people of justice.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus condemns those who are lukewarm. Just as the violent in our world commit violence with great fervor and sometimes glee, we must pursue justice and act with mercy mightily with the same amount of vigor and enthusiasm for good.
And how might we flip the cultural tables and clean the secular temples of our society today? Try following the Ten Commandments. Wow! Talk about messing with a system!
Honoring one God? Not multiple idols? Keeping God’s name and Jesus’ name Holy?! Honoring and keeping Sunday Holy? Committing to at least weekly community prayer? Some non-Catholic churches have even canceled Christmas and Easter services because many people are too busy to come to church on that day.
Thou shall not kill? We are called to respect all of human life? Consider the unborn human persons? Consider the elderly worthy of respect? Care for the poor and less fortunate? Comfort those in prison? Those in hospitals or those with terminal illnesses?
Honor the gift of human sexuality? Cherish marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman? Welcome the gift of children lovingly? And not regard children as mere products or pieces of property considered a right for anyone to have or own?
No stealing? Lying? Swearing falsely? No coveting others and coveting others successes or belongings?
People may think that the truth of orthodoxy is either completely wrong or completely safe. But it is neither wrong nor safe. One may call the truth politically incorrect or call it dangerous, but don’t call it safe or boring.
There never was anything so dangerous or exciting as the truth of orthodoxy. To say that the Eucharist is the body of Christ is too much for the world, yet Jesus said: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man you will have no life within you.”
The Church has never taken the lame course of saying or doing the popular. The church, for instance, is not going to change its teaching on what makes Christian marriage or suddenly change its stance on the dignity of all human life – born and unborn.
In fact, being a disciple of Jesus is not respectable in our culture. Oh, being a Christian on the side is okay. The acceptable kind of Christianity that some embrace is one that never allows Jesus’ teaching to actually change his or her lifestyle or behavior. There are Christian churches today that bribe their people to come to church with pizza, games, prizes. How pathetic. They even teach a personal Jesus that does not claim anything as true – only what is true for each believer is true. How convenient.
It’s always easy to go along with the crowd, to just give in to the cry of the mob. Today there are those who reject sound doctrine for teachings that “tickle their ears,” in St. Paul’s words. Today we can imagine those who want to redefine marriage or even redefine what a human being is or debate when a human being becomes a human person.
Yet Jesus calls us to a sacrificial lifestyle that gives God the glory. We must abandon our own ideas that excuse our sinful behaviors or attitudes.
Yet today many Christians only come to church to worship – if they will even call it that – if it is convenient or if it makes them feel good or if they get something out of it. What they call worship is often cheap entertainment. One must agree that’s a lot easier than actually committing oneself to the lifelong task of continual conversion and growing into the image of Christ.
As an example, we can recall that slavery was once fashionable throughout the world. So was the idea that certain groups of human persons were inferior and had a duty to the rest of humanity to stop having children. And just sixty years ago many Germans systematically set out to eliminate the entire Jewish population. In our own time, there have been certain tribes in Africa that have slaughtered their neighbors simply because they spoke a different language and had different facial features.
One day – I pray – future generations will look back on our own time and judge us harshly for the way that the unborn are considered nothing – even though medical science proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that human life – human personhood – begins at the moment of conception.
The difficult thing is to be true to the orthodox teachings of Christ. And we might have to upturn a few tables of the self-righteous or worldly-wise. We may be called to clear out the disastrous thinking of those who want to tone down the teachings of Christ or render the Ten Commandments merely the ten suggestions and call them multiple choice, or worse, making the teachings of the church optional, nothing more than a cafeteria offering of a little of this and that.
May we allow Christ Jesus access into our hearts, into our lives, into our temples. May he cleanse us from our sins, release us from all distractions, whip our rebellious attitudes, and run out the tempters and temptations that lead us away from the Cross of Christ; for we know that the Cross is the way to the Resurrection and Life. Amen.