3rd Sunday of Lent 2012
The dramatic confrontation in today’s Gospel, where Jesus drives the moneychangers and merchants from the temple precincts, is certainly one of the more startling events in the life of Our Divine Savior. He himself assures us elsewhere that he is meek and humble of heart, and there is no other record in the Gospels of his using physical force to correct evil in this world. While there are numerous accounts of sharp verbal confrontations and rebukes issued by the lord to the leaders of Israel, this event stands alone as an example of his using physical force to correct evil.
From the uniqueness of this event, then, it seems clear that Jesus judged this commercial activity in the temple precincts to be an unbearable insult to His Father’s House and thus, indirectly at least, to His Father. The gravity of the offensive behavior is revealed by his response, arousing what other sins could not, that is, arousing his indignation to the point of physical force.
All sins are ultimately insults to God, but most grievous evidently are those that bear insult to God, such as intruding the sacred space of the Temple for the business of selling sacrificial animals and money exchange: Jesus cries out “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Even the outer Court of the Gentiles, where this offensive activity was taking place – the only place where Gentiles could gather – was a place of prayer, not a secular space for business. Indeed, Jesus anticipates his mission which will extend to the Gentiles, and surely it must have aroused his anger that these righteous Gentiles who came there to pray were scandalized by seeing this sacred place turned into a market place. In other words Jesus’ zeal was for his Father’s House as a whole, not only as a place of worship for God’s chosen people, but also as the place of prayer for those non-Jews whom he would one day call into the inner courts of the Kingdom of His Son. So, Jesus’ zeal was not only for the honor of His Father, but also for the salvation of both those devout, Jews and Gentiles who must have been scandalized by this desecration of God’s Holy Temple.
Now we know from this same Gospel passage that Jesus identified Himself as the true temple of God when he later said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And. St. John immediately clarifies His meaning when he states that Jesus spoke of the temple of his body. (John 2:19) St. Paul will later establish the link between the Temple of Christ’s body and our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Cor. 3:16, Paul says: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” This has serious implications, for if we are truly God’s temple, then any sin we commit is offensive to God simply because we are his temple, made not by human hands, but by the holy Spirit temple, and God intends to dwell within us.
Every sin for a Christian then is doubly offensive to God, directly since we are disobeying his commandments, which means rejecting His will for us, and indirectly, since sin in one way or another every sin desecrates His temple, which is our body and soul. Now we can hopefully see how sins of the flesh desecrate the body as temple of God. Our body is like the outer court of the Gentiles, but it is the temple of God nonetheless, and fornication, adultery, and even more poignantly, suicide desecrate the body as God’s temple.
But perhaps we do not so easily see how other sins listed in the decalogue recounted in our first reading today actually desecrate the soul, the spiritual part of God’s temple, the inner sanctum of the human temple, the holy of holies, when God dwells there.
For instance, lying, stealing, murder, coveting, disrespecting our parents or others in authority, all of these sins desecrate the soul, for they all originate in the soul and all befoul the beauty of that temple. When we lie, the soul is the power by which we lie, and the soul is befouled by the lie becaue it makes us a liar; when we steal, the theft begins in the soul that desires what is another,s and intends to possess it, and so on, and the theft befouls the soul because it makes the soul a thief. And if I murder, the act of murder befouls the souls which originates the murder and makes the a soul a murderer. The victim of our sins against our neighbor is not just our neighbor, but first of all our own self. By sin, then, I desecrate my own soul and indirectly insult the Lord who would dwell there as in His Temple.
And it does us no good to say, well, I didn’t intend to offend God; the fact is that some human actions are objectively offensive to God’s divine honor whether we intend them to be such or not. I am sure many of those who were trading in the temple did not intend to directly offend God, but they did intend to do something that was in truth, objectively, offensive to the divine Lord. Moreover, the prophets had warned them not to turn His house into a marketplace; indeed, Jesus was simply restating the moral norm of the prophet Zechariah (14:21) when he said, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Yet these men freely chose to ignore that moral command. They had distorted their conscience, and they were guilty of this offense against the honor of God.
Likewise today, people often choose to distort their consciences by ignoring the law of Christ speaking through His Church, just as Christ had spoken through the Prophets long before. People sometimes pick and choose what they consider binding on their conscience, just like the money-changers and merchants in the Court of the Gentiles chose to ignore Zechariah and other prophets who decried these abuses of the temple. Will such so-called cafeteria Christians expect Christ to judge them differently than those merchants in the temple? The temple those men of old desecrated was only made of bricks and mortar, marble and other materials. But the temple we desecrate is far more precious, the spiritual and immortal soul, the body consecrated in Baptism, that is the true temple we abuse, far more precious in the judgement of God than the glorious temple of Jerusalem.
In short, all sin offensive to God. First because it contradicts his moral law which is, as Jesus teaches, a law of love, a law that teaches us how to love God and how to love our neighbor as our self. To disobey the law is to insult the lawmaker, to affirm that His law is not for out good but some other motive. Secondly sin offends God because it desecrates His temple, His temple in us, where God has chosen to dwell for all eternity, and in a far far more intimate way than ever he dwelt in temples made by human hands.
The commandments then teach us our great dignity; and the fact that Baptism makes us a temple of God likewise teaches us our great dignity. St. Leo the Great said this over 1500 years ago: “Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and, having become a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct.” When God dwells within us, we become, as St. Leo says, “a partner in the Divine Nature.” The body and the soul become His glorious temple. How can we ever turn back to our old baseness by degenerate conduct. Know your dignity, and you will never allow this temple of God to be debased.