In his homily for 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B, Father Hanly explains, with great kindness and understanding, the difficult story of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple.
First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 11.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Gospel: John 2:13-25
This is not a happy gospel.
I’m sure you, as everybody who hears this gospel, are a bit surprised. And never have we heard Jesus taking a whip and driving people out and anger in his voice and almost desperation. It is so unlike him, the one who is patient and kind and forgiving and all these things that we expect of him, and, all of a sudden, it seems that he’s lost a gigantic temper.
Is there any way out of this?
No, there isn’t. And he tells you – you might have missed it – he tells you one of the reasons why.
Do you remember the little boy Jesus, who went to the temple for the first time? He went with his mother and his father. And he was so fascinated by the temple that he stayed there. And his parents went away and then they realised they’d lost him and they came running back and they found him sitting in the temple with the elders, asking and answering questions.
We have nothing like the meaning of the temple in our church. The temple was what they call the Shekinah of God, where God was most present in this world, where God lived in the Holy of Holies, where God was worshipped and treasured by a people who went through so much pain, through deserts and some terrible conditions, to finally get to the little place, the chosen land, and build a temple, a beautiful temple, a temple where the Shekinah of God could blaze in glory to all the visitors that would come from far, far away to see this wonderful temple where God was most present in the whole world.
And now grown to manhood, Jesus walks into the temple and he sees what has happened to it. He sees a shopping area. He sees people hungry with greed to make money. And to make it on what? The Shekinah of his Father?
And he says, “You have taken my Father’s house, my Father’s house, and you’ve turned it into a cattle market. How could you do that?” He’s a little boy complaining in a great voice, that this should never have been done. And he is almost unforgiveable in his anger. And he does take up a whip and he does drive them out.
And, of course, these are the people who don’t deserve the whip or the driving out. It’s those who are in charge, the high priests who allowed this to take place in their temple, they should have known better. These are only greedy little people trying to make money and don’t care where they try to make it.
And Jesus knows that and that’s why his answer is so strange.
When the chief priests come up to him and say, “How dare you do this! By what authority do you do it?” and he says, very strange, he says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”
And he was talking about his body. He was talking about — he knew, he looked at them and he looked at the people around him — if they could do this to God’s temple, then the great fear that he had within his heart was true: one day they would take him and he would be the sacrifice and they would drive him up a hill and they would crucify him. And he must have seen that as clear as the day he was born.
And how sad, he who came…
But he also knew his Scriptures and he knew the Shekinah of God. He knew that God Himself, his Father, was sending him to lay his life down that he might redeem the world and to open another chapter in God’s relationship with mankind, a chapter that would reach the farthest ends of the earth. For he began to understand that he was the Messiah, the Chosen One of his Father, who would bring back the peace and joy of the Shekinah of God and it would go into the farthest ends of the earth.
And so it is that the writer says this of him,
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
God Himself becomes man. No one can say that he does not know what it means to be a human being, to suffer pain, to have expectations shattered and, finally, to have to face death. He knew that in his heart.
And this is the cause of his great feeling. “Why, why, why can they not learn to love? Why must they act this way? Why must they feel they must get ahead? Why must they hurt each other? Why must they take the great goodness of God Himself and turn it into a rotten market place?”
The love of God drives him on. The love of God allows him to understand just as he said from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
Yes, this is where we meet him today. This is where we begin to look into our own lives.
Because the Messiah has come to us in this church. He has come to be with us. He has come to encourage us. He has come to heal us. The Shekinah of God is now Jesus himself.
And this is the meaning of the reading today.
When you say, “Where is the Messiah?” He is in you, in each other, in the community, and he is here.
And what are we to do? Challenge him as the people of his own time did and said, “Show us signs, show us miracles, do some razzle dazzle”?
He just said very simply, “I am with you today, tomorrow, all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
And what is your life?
Your life is to walk with him and talk with him and let him influence you so that you too can walk through life with joy, with peace and, most of all, with a new love, not for God, not for Jesus, but for each other.