THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT (B)
(Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25)
In our gospel reading St. John tells us that Jesus drove the merchants out of the Temple with a whip since they were, He said, dishonouring His ‘Father’s house’. Saints Matthew and Mark speak of the same event with greater detail, because Matthew (21:13) tells us that Jesus declared:
Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'? But you have made it a den of thieves;
while Mark (11:17) agreeing with Matthew, also adds that Jesus saw His Father’s house as a house of prayer for all nations.
Thanks therefore to St. Matthew and St. Mark we can now understand why Jesus so strongly objected to His Father’s house being made, as John said, into ‘a house of merchandise’: it was because His Father’s house was meant to be a ‘house of prayer’ and indeed, ‘for all nations’.
When Solomon consecrated the first Temple to the Lord in Jerusalem we are told (1 Kings 8:29-30) that he prayed:
May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, 'My name shall be there,' that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place.
And so, the Temple was God’s House in so far as His name was there; but God Himself had His proper dwelling in heaven, as we hear in the book of Deuteronomy (26:15) and in the prophet Isaiah(Isa 63:15):
Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us.
Look down from heaven, and see from Your habitation, holy and glorious.
Therefore, in the Temple of Jerusalem there was both a presence and an absence.
In Mother Church today, each and every Catholic Church is indeed God’s house, His Name is there for it is consecrated to Him, and it is truly a house of prayer. However, as in the Old Testament the Chosen People were well aware that while His Name was with the Temple, God dwelt in heaven, so today, there is at times, a feeling of absence for some Christians as they kneel in their church or chapel because they have abandoned a supremely important part of their Christian inheritance.
For Jesus took great care to help His Church, our Catholic Church today, by abiding with us in Mother Church and in each and every parish church thanks to His gift of the Eucharist and His Eucharistic Presence. That presence is a great comfort to all Catholics. However, we cannot take the Eucharistic Presence with us, the tabernacle remains in the church; and even though we may have received communion at Mass, nevertheless, that Eucharistic presence of Jesus in us is but fleeting: it is a Presence given to us as the supreme channel for the entry of the Spirit of Jesus into our lives.
If we live faithfully by Jesus’ Gift of the Spirit, given to us in and through Mother Church, He, the Spirit, raises us up to a new life in Jesus; and if we allow the Spirit to form us sufficiently in the likeness of Jesus, Jesus and even the Father Himself will come, with the Spirit, to dwell in us as in His Temple, as St. Paul said speaking to his faithful converts:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
When that takes place, People of God, the distance of God is totally transformed into a presence that is closer to us than we are to ourselves, as the following words of Jesus I am about to quote will explain. These are indeed words spoken by Jesus with regard to Himself; but since the faithful disciple is one with Jesus, a living member of His Body, and in Him the faithful disciple is being made, by the Spirit of Jesus, into a child of God in the Son, therefore these words of Jesus about Himself and His Father apply also to each and every faithful disciple of Jesus according to the degree of their faithfulness.
Thus, we can experience God’s presence, the Father’s presence to us, both as a total and comprehensive knowing and being known:
No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son (Matthew 11:27);
and as a tenderness and loving intimacy beyond any possibility of adequate human comparison or comprehension:
No one has seen God at any time, (but) the only begotten Son is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18).
Finally, though having been made fully and at times painfully aware of our own nothingness and unworthiness, we are also given total confidence that this treasure, this most wonderful relationship and presence, this divinely evocative power of knowing and loving, cannot be lost, cannot be taken from us by any power, or under any circumstance save that of our own turning away from God:
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, Who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. (John 10:28-30)
The High Priests and the Temple authorities abused God’s presence in the Temple in as much as they turned the necessary requirements of sacrifice into a profitable and indeed prolific source of money largely for their own purposes and to their own advantage. Hence their hatred for Jesus’ symbolic act which manifested and condemned their excessively financial involvement in the Temple as distinct from their religious and liturgical commitments to it.
There is so much for us learn here, People of God, so much to guide us as individuals in our relationship with and appreciation of Mother Church.
See how much ‘official worship’ meant to Jesus!!
Jesus regularly worshipped in His local synagogue with St. Joseph. The whole family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, went to worship in the Temple every Passover. Consider how, when twelve years of age He became a ‘bar mitzvah’, son of the Law; that is, of age as a Jew to observe the Law fully; and how, it would appear that that legal ‘coming of age’ led Him to stay behind in the Temple, delighting in His Father, while His parents were returning home with the caravan. The official Jewish liturgy was -- as He thought in the zeal of His youth -- the key for the determination of His very life-style.
As an adult Jesus still continued His regular attendance in His local synagogue, he read there, He healed there, He taught there. As for His visits to the Temple in Jerusalem we have today’s Gospel testifying to the dignity He required and indeed demanded for worship in God’s house!!
As a Man, however, Jesus also promoted another mode of worship, ‘in Spirit and in Truth’:
The (Samaritan) woman said to him, "Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Believe Me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth." (John 4:19-24)
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name … (Matthew 6:5-9)
How do we reconcile such apparently different if not opposed attitudes: public, liturgical worship and individual, personal prayer? In a word, by the eminently Christian relationship of complementarity, springing originally from God’s creation of man and woman. There is, essentially, complementarity in both our physical and our spiritual lives.
In our liturgical and sacrificial public worship of God we, as His children and brothers and sister in Christ, offer Him acceptable and sincere obedience and familial praise. In return we receive His blessings: ultimately the supreme blessing His own beloved Son made man for us and glorified by His Spirit. That gift of His Son in our Eucharist still has a glorious ‘physicality’ for us who are so very much ‘flesh and blood’, physical in our being; and that physicality of Our Lord in the Eucharist, though passing short in us, is nevertheless a most precious spur to an ever deeper personal relationship with Him. His complementary Eucharistic Gift of the Holy Spirit is however an enduring presence enabling and empowering us to work at that personal relationship with God established in our oneness with Jesus, a work which is precisely our prayer life. Thus, we are necessarily nourished by our public worship and we intimately deepen and develop our oneness with God in our private, personal, prayer.
What God, in His great wisdom and goodness has joined together, let not sinful and misguided men try to separate!
There is such a beautiful harmony in God’s prescriptions for the fullness of human life; and because Christianity and Catholicism are being cast-aside in our Western eagerness and lust for present, indeed if possible immediate, pleasure, plenty and power, the very fabric of our society is self-destructing and our vision of future blessings has no power to inspire or unite. Liberty, fraternity, equality become divisive concepts when understood and coercively applied by ever more laws discovering and determining criminality, independently and at times in denial of the Christian teachings of Faith, Hope and Charity.
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever; these are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold.