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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Sunday, Week 3. Year B  St. John's Cathedral

Sunday, Week 3. Year B

St. John’s Cathedral

We might ask ourselves why all four Gospels tell this story about Jesus being so angry that day in the Temple two thousand years ago? After all, it’s a little embarrassing when we consider most of the Gospel speaks of Jesus healing and peace-making.

To help us understand what happened, let’s remember the importance of the Temple in Jerusalem. The most recent rebuilding and renovation had taken 46 years to build and was extended magnificently by Herod. It was meant to be the place where people would worship the one God and rediscover how they are all sisters and brothers to one another. The idea is that people would come, offer sacrifices in the form of animals or pigeons and enter into prayer there and remember they were to live as God’s people. But instead it had become a place of wheeling and dealing, a place of money and power. I’ve read that was something like 16000 priests linked to the Temple and it had become a place far from the original intention of the Temple.

Jesus had God’s dream for our world in his heart, that our world would be a family of peace and justice and love. That day when he entered the Temple he must have suddenly realised he had to show us that we have to overturn the tables in so many ways in our world if we want to live according to God’s dream which is what we all have nostalgia for.

That’s why he overturned the tables in the Temple that day. He could see clearly that our world is not the family God created it to be. Instead of justice and peace and love there is manipulation, divisions and one-upmanship. And that was happening right there even in the Temple!

Our first reading from Exodus gives us an earlier appeal from God. God reminds his people just how generous he has been to them. And he has provided them with a law code which is quite different from all law codes that we know of in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the great civilizations surrounding the Jewish people. God’s commandments address each of us as a Thou, as a you-for-God. God addresses each of us personally and intimately “you shall not have other gods, you shall not have idols, you shall not kill”. We know that Jesus will summarise this law with the two commandments – love of God and love of neighbour.

So back to Jesus and today’s Gospel. The Gospel is written after the Resurrection. The disciples finally understand what they hadn’t grasped when Jesus was with them on earth. And this is what the Gospel writers want to get across. Now they realise that yes, the Temple was a great building in Jerusalem. It was the sacred place where you could meet God. But now they understand that Jesus himself was the real Temple because he is God come among us. What’s more, by dying and rising, Jesus the individual died but he rose as a community. We are Christ’s body. We now in our relationships with one another in Christ are now the Temple where we meet God.

This changed everything for the disciples. Of course, it is still good to have buildings and special places and times for prayers. But they now realise that we can always meet God in our own soul and in every relationship we have with others. God always wants to come in and take up residence within us and among us.

But if we are too busy with our idols, worshipping the gods of consumerism, our own ideas, our wheeling and dealing, then God is left knocking on the door, waiting. That’s why Jesus is so angry today. That’s why he overturns the tables. That’s why he casts the merchants out of the Temple. The disciples now realise he wants us to realise just how much we too have to overturn the tables in our lives. God has done so much for us. He has given us a code to live by. God wants our soul and our community relationships to be a house of prayer, that is, places where we and others can meet God. But it’s up to us to let this happen.

It’s Lent. This Gospel is offered to you, to me, as a signpost in the Lenten spiritual cammino. It provides you and me with a question – check out the idols in your life that are blocking your soul and your relationships from being a place where God is to be found and worshipped. Idols can be objects or desires or ideas or persons or projects that we give make a god of in our lives. We can see we have idols in our life if we are holding on to some resentment, if we are overly concerned about getting the upper hand over others, if we are consumed with desires for power, wealth, abuse of others. Perhaps without realising it, there are idols in our lives that turn our soul and our relationships into places of selfish narcissism instead of selfless giving.

I read a line during the week that struck me. The problem of the Western world isn’t so much atheism as idolatry. Idolatry is always a subtle temptation.

I recall a woman I met years ago telling me of how when she had married her husband, both of them were big into their faith. Gradually, however, her husband lost his faith. Tensions grew among them. She found herself growing resentful and judging her husband. But one day, she suddenly realised something. That she had filled the space in heart made for God with her demand that her husband be this or that kind of person. Her life had become a wheeling and dealing with her husband. She realised she had to start again in her relationship with God and with her husband. She said she found a new freedom that started with simple acts of disinterested love for her husband. The idol of a perfect husband according to her wishes was replaced by a new trust in God and a simple new outreach to her husband.

So often the connecting corridors of the Temple of our soul and the Temple of our relationships get darkened. Lent is a time for letting the light in.