Reflection for the Vigil of the Third Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)

By Sister Judith Sutera, OSB

Reading: John 2:13-25

Sister Judith SuteraPerhaps some of you have a similar memory to mine from somewhere in your religious training. As a child preparing for First Communion, I can recall being told that our souls were like a room and that prayer and confession would help us sweep it clean for Jesus. Everything should be made ready and welcoming for our greatest guest. This was just the slightest beginning of a growing understanding of the concept of our bodies as temples, true dwelling places of God. 

We can easily lose sight of this amazing truth. We begin to fill the temple with all kinds of extra objects and extracurricular activities. When Jesus comes into our temple, he is likely to find a crowd of possessions to which we have become attached in a way that draws our attention away from the sacredness of the space. We might be busy about our transactions: negotiating for influence, competing for attention, trading irrelevant or malicious words. Our tables may be covered with hurts, insecurities, doubts and fears that we re-count and re-stack and use as the currency of our interactions.

Most of us here have had more than the gospel story’s 46 years to build our temple. By and large we have tried, like the people of Jerusalem, to make it strong and beautiful. But other things creep in. Many of the merchants in the temple thought they were doing a good thing. They wanted to make the trip to the temple easier and more convenient for travelers who needed the local money or animals for sacrifice. They probably sincerely thought that this glorified God and was a religious service. But it was easy for it to become a source of temptation, to make it about themselves and how successful or wealthy or important they could become. And even for those whose motives were pure, soon the clutter and the noise overshadowed the beauty of the temple, distracting the eye and the mind from the awesome approach to the dwelling place of God.

Much of the time we hardly notice how many things are going on around the courtyard of our temple. But sometimes we may become so aware of this, and so frustrated by it, that we may want to lash out like Jesus. We can identify with Paul saying that the good he wants to do he doesn’t do, and the things he knows he shouldn’t do, he does. “My sins overwhelm me, too many for me to bear” says Psalm 38. Benedict’s journey of humility forces us to go through this place where we see just how imperfect and lowly we are. 

Like the gentle Jesus pushed to intolerance by such a painful sight, we may have moments of anger with what we see and how we have let it happen. We just want to tear through it and clear it all away. Our deepest better selves want to see our sins and imperfections gone, and gone now. But while we are consumed by zeal, we cannot be consumed by frustration, self-loathing, guilt or despair. Psalm 65 picks up where Psalm 38 leaves off, “Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.” 

Although it isn’t meant as a compliment to human nature in the context of this reading from John, Jesus does indeed know us all. As we struggle forward and keep cleaning up the clutter of our souls in this Lent, let us be mindful that we are blessed to have a savior who has shared our humanity and understands it well.