3RD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B ON MARCH 7, 2021 (R. 1: Exodus 20: 1- 17; Psalm 19:8,9,10,11; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 22- 25; Gospel: John 2: 13- 25)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?
This seems to be out of character for Jesus. The Prince of Peace suddenly becomes violent. The healer of the sick is now inflicting pain on people. The one who feeds the hungry is taking away the source of livelihood from some people. He enters the Temple today, not to pray, but to say that the Temple is not for play. He makes a whip out of cords, and he flogs the sellers out of the Temple and turns the tables of the money changers upside down. What is going on here?
The cleansing of the Temple as we have in today’s Gospel passage is one event in the public ministry of Jesus that is reported by all four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). This tells us how important and significant this event is to the work of redemption, the work of salvation for which Jesus came. The story of the mystery of the incarnation has it that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. But that is only the first half of the story. The second half of the story is that the purpose of the Son of God becoming a human being is that human beings may become divine. To do this, the Son of God had to first bring about reconciliation between divinity and humanity through his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection.
Let us trace the history of our salvation back to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Unlike many of their neighbors, the Patriarchs worshipped the One True God. To approach God, they were setting up altars made of stones at different points to offer sacrifices. The altars became the meeting points between divinity and humanity. At a point, the descendants of these Patriarchs, the Israelites, were enslaved in Egypt, and after a while, God appointed Moses to lead them out of slavery, to lead them out of Egypt. His message to Pharaoh through Moses was “Let my people go that they may worship me.”
In the wilderness, during the Exodus, God revealed to Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in a tent that became a meeting point between God and humanity. So, God dwelt in a tent journeying with the Israelites from place to place. When the children of Israel arrived at the Promised Land, after defeating their enemies, God gave King Solomon the privilege to build a Temple as a dwelling place of God, and a place where God met His people. The children of Israel continued to worship God in the Temple, they continued to see the Temple as the meeting point between God and human beings. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus comes to upgrade that meeting place from the Temple made by human hands to himself. He became the new and True Temple. He said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” By that he was referring to his death and his glorious resurrection.
The temple is the dwelling place of God, and the meeting place between divinity and humanity. Where else does God dwell more than in Jesus Christ? Where is a better meeting point between divinity and humanity than in Jesus? Jesus is fully God and fully human. And since Jesus came to make us divine, he has also upgraded us by making us temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). The journey began with the Patriarchs setting up altars of stones to worship God, then they moved to the Tent housing the Ark of the Covenant, then to the Temple first built by Solomon. Jesus took over as the True Temple and he passed on that dignity to us as Temples of the Holy Spirit.
Did Jesus act out of character in the cleansing of the Temple? Did he take a vacation from being a loving person? Proverbs 3:12 says, “The Lord disciplines the one He loves as does a father the son in whom he delights,” and Hebrews 12:6 says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his child.” Religion is supposed to bring us back to God, it is supposed to help us regain our lost glory. When Jesus entered the Temple, he saw that those doing business in the Temple were riding on religion as a high-speed vehicle on a high-speed lane to hell fire. Out of love for them, he had to flog them out of the wrong lane. When the one you love is running on a high-speed heading to a deep and deadly pit, it is not the time for gentle advice or sweet talks. You summon all your strength, even if it requires causing them temporary pains to get them out of harm’s way.
So, my dearly beloved in Christ, as we thank God for the gift of religion, the season of Lent gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we do with religion. How have we been using religion? To grow in our love of God and neighbor? To promote human dignity and protect/respect creation? Or do we use religion as a cover to promote our selfish interests? To promote our mundane and political interest? Is religion an instrument for enslaving other human beings? Is religion an instrument of segregation and discrimination for us? If Jesus enters our churches today, what will he do to us priests? What will he do to us religious leaders? What will he do to us Catholics and Christians?
The season of Lent gives us the opportunity to carry out self-flogging while we can. Let us pray that Jesus may flog all that is evil out of us in this life so that we will not have to suffer eternal flogging after our sojourn here on earth, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.