Third Week in LentThe Cleansing of the Temple | Sister Mary Elizabeth Schweiger, OSB
I have a secret that many of you know and that I'm not sure I want the rest of you to know. I like to clean. When I have the time and energy, I love to tackle my office, my bedroom, a kitchen in someone else's home and give them a deep cleaning and get things in order. It is so satisfying to get rid of things I no longer need, to throw away old papers, recycle clothes, dust, polish and to straighten up shelves. It gives me an opportunity to remember and to reflect on my life. It gives me great joy to sit in the newly cleaned room and begin anew. A fresh start helps me remember who I am and what is important in my life.
Today's readings reflect that God likes to clean. God likes to clean his temple, his world, getting rid of hypocrisy, hatred, false idols and putting all things in proper order.
In the reading from Isaiah, God cries out: "What do I care about the number of your sacrifices?" "Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean!" Instead, Isaiah goes on: "Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea and defend the widow. Come let us set things right…" The burnt sacrifices are now replaced with the precepts of the Lord and as the responsorial psalm reminds us, the laws of God are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold: sweeter also than honey from the comb.
In the gospel of John, Jesus becomes the master cleaner, cleansing the temple. John's picture of Jesus in the temple is dramatic and full of emotion. The temple was a special place in which to meet God. The scene of a marketplace outside the Temple was not unusual because the law required people to offer sacrifices to God through burnt offerings of cattle, sheep, and doves. Since Passover was a pilgrimage feast, many of the people coming to worship in the Temple would have journeyed a great distance and would not have brought animals with them. They needed to buy them. The anger of Jesus comes about because the merchants were motivated by greed. Jews would have had to change their money to pay the tax, so money changers were making money. There were lots of abuses and hypocrisy. The temple needed cleaning.
Because Jesus was the presence of God among them, they no longer needed burnt offerings. When Jesus states that zeal for your house will consume me, he means he would become the sacrifice. The life of Jesus bears testimony to the power of God in the world. Just as the temple was the locus of God's presence on earth for the Jews, the Body of Jesus becomes the locus for us. Through his passion, death, and resurrection and through our baptism, we become the Body of Chris, so we are the manifestation of God today. What a privilege, what a responsibility! Together we have a lot of work to do.
Today, the Body of Christ, God's temple, needs to be cleaned and this time through us. We need to acknowledge our sins of greed and selfishness and make every effort to root out hunger, injustices and homelessness in our world. We ought to be outraged that vulnerable students are being killed by guns in the name of freedom. We must protest a wall that divides people. We must deplore an arsenal of nuclear weapons that can kill others randomly. We must end racism and hatred. These are not of God.
Today we need a good zeal, as St. Benedict writes in his Rule, which separates from vices and leads us to God and to everlasting life, a monastic zeal that can cleanse the temple. In the words of Sister Mary Ellen Plumb, a Benedictine from Erie, Pennsylvania, "Let us each be the first to show unconditional reverence to everyone we encounter - no exceptions.
Let us each be the first to disarm our tendencies to judge and to fight and to hate and to kill.
Let us each be the first to listen closely and often to those who think and believe differently than we do and those who are broken and lost.
Let us each be the first to demand any and every change necessary in ourselves and in our laws to lay down weapons that kill in exchange for attitudes and language and policies that unite.
Let us each be the first to love lavishly and extravagantly without measure.
Let us each be the first to be kind, to be kind, to be kind."
As we continue on our Lenten journey, let us join together, along with Jesus and do some spring cleaning.
Mary Elizabeth Schweiger, OSB