Getting rid of what doesn’t belong

My homily for this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent. (You can find the Scripture readings here.)

Quite a scene in the Jerusalem Temple today!

This wandering preacher from a hick town out in the boondocks comes to the big city with his ragtag band of followers, goes to the most important building in the center of the city, and starts disrupting commerce there, attacking the merchants with whips, scattering herds of animals all over the place, overturning tables and throwing massive piles of coins on the ground. What’s going on?

A little background. At the time of Jesus, the vast majority of Jews lived outside Jerusalem, for example in Galilee, where Jesus came from, but also as far away as Rome, Alexandria, or even Spain.

Each year there were three major Pilgrimage feasts, when pious Jews would travel to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple.

Because it’s difficult to travel long distances bringing sheep or oxen (or even turtledoves) with you, merchants set up shop around the Temple to sell these animals needed for the sacrifice.

Also, worshippers had to pay a Temple tax, but they couldn’t use the Roman coins they brought with them because they were imprinted with the images of the Emperor and Roman gods. So they had to change their money to the approved Temple coinage, and of course money changers would make their living from that.

This was all a brisk and competitive business, and there was nothing wrong with it – as long as they stayed outside the Temple itself.

But, the Temple officials – the Sadducees and high priests – saw a good thing for themselves, and began letting these merchants into the sacred areas of the Temple, intended for sacrifice and worship – for a price, of course – and even setting up shops themselves. Economically a good idea; but an abomination to anyone who would take true worship of God seriously. This kind of activity simply did not belong there.

This was Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem after he began proclaiming God’s kingdom and gathering his disciples. And he made a grand gesture that would be calculated to appeal to the simple folk who just wanted to worship God, and at the same time infuriate the officials, who both looked down on and exploited the simple folk for their own profit.
Those same Temple officials, who benefitted from this exploitation and desecration of God’s House, began to plot against Jesus. A plot that would actually be accomplished two years later at the same feast of the Passover.

But already, at the beginning of his work on earth, Jesus established a priority. Remove from God’s house what does not belong there.

Jesus goes on to say that his own body is God’s Temple, and our faith, especially the teaching of St. Paul, makes it clear that our lives are God’s Temple as well.
Lent is a time for for removing what does not belong in our life. If we “give some thing or behavior up for Lent” maybe it is worthy of dropping completely! Not a bad idea.

It’s pretty clear that there are a lot of things that don’t really belong in the world, the world that God created and that God has destined for himself. Look around and we see so much that is evil and destructive, so much alienation and conflict, so much fear and hatred.

We may not be able to guide and change events in the larger world, but we have a lot of say about what happens in “our world” that is our life at home, community, and work.

It has been rightly said that any change we want to bring about in the world, we must first bring about in ourselves, in our own lives.

We are now one-third of the way through Lent. There is still time to find out some of the behaviors that should no longer should be in our lives, and, even better, what would be great behavior to include.

If Jesus were to “walk into the temple” that is our life, would he feel at home? Or would he point out things that are out of place, that are occupying space in our lives that we need to hand over to him?

Unlike those who were hardened in their self-centered exploitation of God’s House for profit, and wanted to get rid of Jesus, if we freely let him in to remove what is not of God in our lives, he will be gentle.

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