3rd Sunday in Lent (B)

The Gospel of today focuses on cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, this scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, Jesus entered into the temple area, not to do homage but to challenge the temple and its leaders. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and upset the stalls of those selling birds and animals for the sacrifice. What a teaching moment this was! Jesus quoted from the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations … but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17, Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 7:11).

What saddens Jesus is to see the degeneration of a religious place caused by a logic of merchandising the sacred as if God could be bought. It is indeed a petty reduction of God. Instead of worshiping God, gratuitous love, with offerings that show a gratitude for this providential love, it becomes a serious impoverishment of the face of God, who is gratuitous Love. God the Father is not an officer to be bribed or a salesperson appease with a big donation. In short, we cannot bargain with God. He stopped the temple service that had outlived its aim and was no longer relevant existence.

In the Fourth Gospel, the cleansing of the temple takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and not at the beginning of the events of the last days of Jesus’ life. The startling words and actions of Jesus in the temple, whether they are from the Synoptic accounts or John’s account, took on new meaning for later generations of Christians. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house into a market place!” The temple was not a commercial center or shopping mall but rather a holy place of the Father. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people.

Jesus’ disciples recall him saying in the temple the words of Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” When the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and both Jews and Christians grieved at its loss, the followers of Jesus recalled this incident in the temple. Now they could see new meaning in it; it was a sign that the old temple was finished but a new temple was to be built. This new temple would not be of stone and wood and gold. It would be a living temple of holy people (I Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Extreme Jesus: One intriguing aspect of today’s Gospel story is the portrait of an angry Jesus in the temple-cleansing scene that gives way to two extremes in our own image of the Lord. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ into a whip-cracking revolutionary. Others would like to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character, who smiled, kept silent and never rocked the boat. The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism.

Jesus was not exclusively, not even primarily, concerned with social reform. Rather, he was filled with a deep devotion and burning love for his Father and the things of his Father. He wanted to form new people, created in God’s image, who are sustained by his love, and bring that love to others. Jesus’ disciples and apostles recognized him as a passionate figure; one who was committed to life and to losing it for the sake of truth and fidelity.

The Prophets have spoken in the name of God about the kind of worship they ought to do. It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice. The Lord says: Do you think I like the sacrifices you keep offering to me? Who asked you to do all these when you come to worship me? Who asked you to do all the tramping about in my temple? He continues to say what is right to do. Wash yourselves clean. Stop all evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop evil, and learn to do right. See that justice is done. Help those who are oppressed. Give orphans their right and defend the widows.

After this event Pharisees quizzed Jesus whether he could show any sign to them. Jesus answers that He could rebuild the temple within three days. Jesus was talking about his own body as temple. There is a message for every one of us. Jesus body is a temple. The old temple service is stopped by him and the new temple has been announced. The one in which God is with the orphans and the widows, with the marginalized of the society, with the sinners and the sick. St. Paul reminds us that even our body is the temple of God. Then we should not make it a den of robbers. If my body is the temple of God, our neighbors also are temples of God. This should prompt us to respect and revere them. As temple is kept neat and tidy, we should keep the temple premises, our environment neat and clean.

Message of the cross: In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18, 22-25), we hear about “the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” For St. Paul, the cross represents the center of his theology: To say cross means to say salvation as grace given to every creature. It was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The “scandal” and the “foolishness” of the cross are precisely in the fact that where there seems to be only failure, sorrow and defeat, precisely there, is all the power of the boundless love of God. The cross is the expression of love and love is the true power that is revealed precisely in this seeming weakness.

St. Paul has experienced this even in his own flesh, and he gives us testimony of this in various passages of his spiritual journey, which have become important points of departure for every disciple of Jesus: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9); and even “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something” (1 Corinthians 1:28).