Deacon Cornellís Homily

Readings:

Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

Date: March 6-7, 2021, Third Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

Today's Gospel story of the cleansing of the Temple is found in all 4 Gospels and is probably one of the most controversial stories in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place the event at the end of Jesus' ministry and strongly imply that it was the thing that prompted the Jewish authorities to condemn him. John's Gospel places the event at the very beginning of Jesus' public ministry and uses it as a symbol for several aspects of who Jesus really is. People who are against Christianity use it to "prove" that Jesus couldn't be God because he is acts out his anger in a very physical way. This story upsets many Christians because it portrays Jesus as being really angry and acting our that anger in a physical way.

The truth is that Scripture does not say that anger itself is a sin but is something that can lead us into sin. Anger is an emotion that helps us to discern when something is wrong enough that something should be done to correct it. None of the four Gospels explicitly say what makes Jesus angry enough to drive out the animals and overturn the money changers' tables. Many commentators find evidence in other writings from about the same time that the money changers were exploiting those who had come to the temple to carry out their obligations under Jewish law, either by charging interest on the money changing or simple overcharging the poor. Others point to the fact that the money changers were taking up so much room in the court of the Gentiles that there was no place for many of the non-Jewish temple goers to pray. Of course it could have been more that one reason. I would like to share with you one I ran across several years ago that helps me to identify more closely with this story. When you start looking at the practice of animal sacrifice for the people of Israel, it was strongly linked to building a strong personal relationship with God. It is this aspect of sacrifice that points to why we call Jesus the Lamb of God, the ultimate Passover sacrifice that makes us adopted daughters and sons of God, no longer needing animal sacrifice to symbolize this closeness.

The law for celebrating the Passover for Israel said that on the 10th of the month of Nisan they were to select the lamb to be offered and bring it into their house until the 14th when it would be sacrificed. What do you think happens when you bring a cute little animal into the house for 4 days? By the end of the first day it has a name, right? And by the time the 14th rolls around, this is not just an animal being sacrificed; it is your pet, part of your family. In other words, the sacrifice of the lamb more intuitively symbolizes the point that you were offering your whole self, your life to God in thanks and praise.

As the temple economy grew and became very codified, the people coming to Jerusalem to make their required sacrifice could no longer offer their own animal. The journey would have made any of the animals they brought bruised or otherwise blemished. So the temple authorities forced people to buy one of their animals. So one aspect of what angers Jesus is that the temple economy is putting a barrier up between God and his people. In John's Gospel, the sign that Jesus gives to the authorities looks forward to when the temple will no longer stand between God and his people. Two chapters later, Jesus says this very clearly to the woman at the well: the time is coming when all will worship in Spirit and in truth, neither on that mountain in Samaria or in Jerusalem.

I am reminded of this story at every Mass. As in John's Gospel, everything we do and say in liturgy is symbolic, pointing to truth that is deeper than the symbols, and hopefully enabling us to enter into that deeper truth. At the offertory we bring up bread and wine as symbolic gifts. As the prayer the presider says over these gifts reminds us, they are a combination of a gift from God and the work of human hands. The bread and the wine symbolize us, the assembly. When the priest says the prayer called the Epiclesis over these gifts, asking that God send his Spirit on these gifts so that they become for us the Body and Blood of Christ, he is praying that we who are symbolized by that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ as well. Every time you participate in the Eucharist, either in person or through technology, I would ask you to imagine that everyone in the assembly is piled up on that altar instead of just the symbols of bread and wine. Imagine yourself and all of us, ready for the Spirit to come down on us like the dew fall and change us into the Body and Blood of Christ. Isn't that the main purpose of Mass: that we become more fully the Body of Christ so we can be sent out into the world to make God's love incarnate here and now?

So as we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice week after week, let us look into ourselves and see what, if anything, is standing in the way of our offering our whole self back to God to be transformed. If we see anything standing in the way of that, let's get as zealous as Jesus did in the Temple and drive whatever it is out of the way. Jesus came to show us in the most profound and unambiguous way what Paul told the Romans in our second reading last week: God is for us, totally and without reservation. But the only way we can truly benefit from that reality is if we turn around, we repent, and offer ourselves totally and without reservation back to God.

God did send his only Son into the world so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. The word believe in that verse means to live in a way that comes from having turned ourselves over totally to God to be transformed into the Body of Christ who IS eternal life.

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