Christ temple money lenders

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

2024 THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle B – usus recentior)

2/3 March

Did Jesus overreact? Sometimes a little context helps.

The First Reading offers a little of this context. On the surface, it seems like a bunch of rules. But the Ten Commandments are no more rules than are wedding vows, or ordination promises. Wedding vows and ordination promises are set in the context of a change to a relationship – this is the case for the Ten Commandments too. By way of the exchange of vows, two people commit their lives to each other and become one body. By way of his ordination promises, a man commits himself to God and his people and becomes a priest. With the Commandments, God commits himself to His people who become sacred: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Exodus 6:7)

Is this enough context to decide of Our Lord overreacted? More context will help.

The Old Testament is correctly understood as salvation history. It tells the story of God’s pursuit of Israel, to save Israel from sin and restore the intimacy that existed between God and His creation before the fall. Often, the Old Testament writers used the image of marriage to describe the relationship between God and Israel, and to show how intimate God wished to be with His people.

Hosea tells the story of a husband and his unfaithful wife. The husband represents God whereas the wife represents Israel. God the husband is fed up with Israel for running off with other husbands (with other Gods). But God woos Israel back to Him:

I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God’ (Hosea 2:23).

The book of Isaiah also uses nuptial language to express the intimacy God wishes to have with His people:

“It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” And your land, “Married.” For the Lord delights in you. And to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:4-5).

Are we now ready to decide if Jesus overreacted when he cleared the Temple?

Relationships have consequences. Although marriages don’t have rule books, most married persons could write down what might be considered the customs of the house, so to speak. Children usually know the non-negotiables of their homes. They know the expectations, obligations, and responsibilities within their family.

Priestly vocations also have consequences. In our house, we have something called the Particular Statutes. These statutes aren’t rules, but customs, reflecting how our love for each other is lived between this altar and, believe it or not, our kitchen table.

God’s covenant has consequences too. The Ten Commandments are a written expression of these consequences. At the heart of the covenant is that God and Israel have entered into an exclusive relationship, a commitment to each other that cuts Israel off from the world.

In Latin, to cut off is to make something “sacred”. That which is not cut off is called profane. The word “profane” comes from the words “pro,” meaning “in front of”, and “fanum” meaning “temple”. In other words, what is within the Temple is sacred, cut off from what is profane.

Marriage is sacred and cuts each member off from intimate relationships with anyone other than the two partners. Ordination is sacred and cuts the priest off from attachments to anything within this world. God’s covenant with Israel makes Israel sacred, cutting Israel off from all other nations. The Temple is the bed chamber, so to speak, where this covenant is renewed. Therefore, the presence of the money changes represents the presence of the profane within the sacred. This symbolizes the rejection of the covenant on the part of Israel.

This is the reason Jesus acts so forcefully. He is restoring the covenant and the bond that exists between God and His people. This purification and restoration will be complete in His own body which He describes in today’s Gospel as the new Temple that will be raised on the third day. This is a mystery. To the Greek it is foolishness, and to the Jew it is blasphemy. But to us, alive in Christ Jesus, it is our hope.