In our Gospel today we have a dramatic scene: Jesus, in wrath, grabs a whip and cleans house. Why? Jesus describes the temple as “my Father’s house” – it housed the Holy of Holies – the Ark of the Covenant and was the place of sacrificial offering and prayer. With a whip Jesus physically wreaks havoc in the temple area, driving out the money changers, sheep and oxen, flipping over tables. Merciful? Sensitive?
What a remarkable scene! Jesus then gives the prophesy in response to the Jews who ask what sign he can show – He says, “destroy THIS temple and in three days I will raise it up”, with reference to his death and resurrection.
The meaning for us is profound – the temple was the very heart of Judaism. There was only one temple where sacrifice was offered and the Holy of Holies stood, though there were synagogues dispersed throughout the various towns, regions/tribes of Israel, where the law was taught, the Torah was read as it is still today.
When Jesus died on the cross the Gospel tells us the curtain of the temple – which hung at the entrance to the Holy of Holies, was torn in two from top to bottom – this signified a miraculous act of God, for the curtain was X feet high and six inches thick. This signified how the old covenant and sacrifices were over and the new had begun – Jesus IS the new Holy of Holies – and he desires to dwell within us now as in a temple. Jesus died to save us from our sins and to send the Holy Spirit into the world for the forgiveness of sins.
St. Paul tells us today that we are “God’s building”… and that “no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within you?... the temple of God, which you are is holy.”
Now the meaning of Jesus grabbing a whip and cleaning house becomes crystal clear – it is an image of preserving God’s presence, His life of grace within His temple. Jesus was making no statement about commerce. He was making a statement about holiness and the need for the temple of our souls and the Church … to be free of worldly preoccupation and attachment.
The first reading refers to the waters flowing from the temple – water signifies life – as in baptism, it signifies grace, God’s supernatural life and power … cleansing from sin and giving us new life. This is the spiritual meaning of Jesus cleansing of the temple. He was physically acting out what he would do for each of us …
By allowing Christ to come into the temple of our souls, we allow Him to “grab a whip and clean house” – to drive out evil and sin and our attachment to our own will, our attachment to pleasure over joy in the spirit and peace and eternal life. Jesus accomplished this through the passion, death and resurrection he prophesied in our Gospel today.
There is also a connection of the temple imagery to the Church today – as the Jewish Temple existed, so now today we have Cathedrals, basilicas and Churches which house the Holy of Holies – Christ Himself in the tabernacle -who comes to dwell in us.
Jesus reacts with righteous anger to the Jews attempting to accommodate the temple to the world by allowing moneychangers in the outer courts of the Temple… to “mix” the sacred with the mundane; worship with worldliness and selfishness. Today, the Church must with equal zeal - resist accommodating worldly notions of marriage, morality and sin.
Today, 40% of Catholics attend Sunday Mass, and even less of those who adhere to the Church’s moral teachings. Why is the Church shrinking in numbers? Is it because the Church is not accommodating enough to worldly ideas of marriage and morality? Or is it because we (and I’m speaking especially of clergy, bishops and cardinals) are not witnessing adequately to the truth of the Gospel – to call adultery what is adultery, not as judging another’s soul, but in charity to bring about repentance and conversion. Jesus first words of ministry wasn’t “welcome” but rather, “repent”.
The mercy of Christ and that of the Church comes at a condition … and that is repentance and “to sin no more and avoid the occasion of sin” via sacramental confession. Then those estranged from the Church can return as the prodigal son did – by making a change and returning to the Father’s house. Not by asking the Christ’s Church to accommodate their lifestyle in her doctrine and discipline.
A few in the Church are pushing for new “accommodations” for those who are divorced and remarried without annulment to receive Holy Communion. This can never happen because there is an ongoing, unrepented sin occurring with regard to the prior existing bond of marriage. “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife… and marries another commits adultery..” In today’s culture, most people simply reject this teaching as unreasonable. If the person lives in a relationship that is public adultery, how is it possible to approach confession, let alone Holy Communion, with the resolution to sin no more? However, faced with difficult situations, we must remember to distinguish between love for the sinner and hatred for sin. The Church must reach out in charity and sound pastoral direction, which has been lacking.
But, to change this perpetual teaching in the Church would be to abolish Christ’s law regarding the indissolubility of marriage. This gives scandal to the faithful and is contrary to the divine law, which no pope or cardinal can change. The Church was willing to suffer the protestant revolt in 1500’s b/c Henry VIII wanted a divorce, rather than accommodate divine teaching to political and worldly preferences.
So too, the Church can never accommodate her teaching or discipline to accept anything other than marriage being between a man and woman – as inscribed in the very nature of the human person, the transmission of new life and the raising of children. All are called to chastity – even within marriage. This teaching will not change and is unchangeable as it is part of the natural law and sacred deposit of faith. Yet there is pressure even within the Church to make accommodations on this, which compromises the foundational truth of marriage. Without it, Christianity literally falls apart and is falling apart.
Standing for these teachings of Christ will cause you to be hated, called intolerant, out of touch and even unmerciful. But Jesus told his apostles to remember that “if the world hates you, remember it hated me first.”
Jesus wishes to drive out all accommodations to sin in our own soul and in the Church he built upon Peter, the Rock. True mercy and love can never be separated from truth. Let us welcome Jesus into the temple of our souls, which we are about to do in this Eucharist, and by His grace, cast out all worldly teachings and doctrines for that of Christ, who is the Holy of Holies we must preserve and protect in our own souls and in our Church. Peace +