Breaking News! Sunday, March 11th, 2018: Daylight Saving Time begins: Turn your clocks ahead 1 hr this Saturday night. Father Riley's lenten class will be at 9am! Sunday.
Also: Mark your calendars: On Good Friday, March 30th, we will offer Stations of the Cross starting at 11:30am before our Good Friday service. Passover begins. Please try to attend this inspirational offering. Learn more at:
Father Riley's homily for March 4, 2018:
LENT III - B - 18 JOHN 2. 13-25
Our Lenten lectionary has made a shift this morning. We move from St. Mark’s gospel, the gospel of year B, to that of St. John. However, the subject of today’s reading is one that appears in all four of the gospels - the cleansing of the temple.
St. John’s account of the cleansing of the temple comes at the beginning of his record of Jesus’ ministry, whereas in the synoptic it appears at the end. The synoptic accounts of Jesus’ actions in the temple courtyard are very brief. John, on the other hand, fleshes it out and adds the priests challenge to Jesus in their asking of a “sign” which brings Jesus’ shocking response.
Today’s scene follows Christ’s first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana where he turned the water into wine. Obviously, his reputation as some kind of miracle worker had preceded his visit to Jerusalem. I might add that the word miracle and “sign” in John’s gospel often refer to the same thing, but not always.
With that said, what Jesus saw in the courtyard was unacceptable. The trade, the market-place atmosphere, was not supposed to be there. The service being provided by the sellers of animals and birds, as well as that of the moneychangers was a needed one.
Pilgrims needed animals to offer as a sacrifice. If they brought their own, they had to be inspected and found acceptable. However, in most cases they were not. Thus, the pilgrims had to buy one from the sellers that had passed priestly inspection and paid a premium in doing so.
Roman coins, the coinage used in Jerusalem, could not used to pay the temple tax because they carried the image of Caesar. Instead, one had to use shekels. Again, the pilgrims had to exchange their money and a surcharge was added.
All of this was necessary, however it was something that had heretofore taken place outside the walls of the courtyard of the Gentiles, that is, outside the confines of the Temple walls, but had now moved inside the sacred space. By doing so, the exchange fell within the realm of the chief priests and scribes who made a profit from each and every transaction.
St. John tells us that Jesus drove the merchants out with the words “take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Jesus felt that the house and worship of God were being compromised and insulted. Jesus’ zeal (Ps 69.9) for his Father’s glory was uncompromising. Thus, his justified anger.
The sellers of cattle, sheep and doves, along with the moneychangers must have been stunned by Jesus’ actions. Who was this? Moreover, what did he think he was doing? The Jews, St. John’s adjective for those who opposed Jesus, namely the chief priests and scribes, question him by asking for a “sign” that would justify what he was doing and saying.
Moreover, if the sellers and moneychangers were stunned at his actions, the Jews who asked for a sign were literally shocked at his response: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Temple was the heartbeat of Judaism. It was much more than just a church on a street corner. It was the center of worship and music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning.
Above all, it was the place that Israel’s god had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation, and of the national way of life. It was begun in 20 B.C. and not finished until 64 A.D. and then destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.
Of course, Jesus’ challengers took his remarks concerning the temple literally, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” when he was actually speaking of his own body, his own death and resurrection.
The “sign” then of the cleansing of the temple is not a miracle and was not immediately obvious to his disciples, much less to the populace. Thus, St. John points out that it was after the resurrection that his disciples understood what he had said in the temple courtyard on that day.
Those who believe in him at this time are still obviously impressed by the miraculous. Who can change water into wine? Throughout the gospel, Jesus rejects this basis for belief. It is too shallow and unstable. Jesus himself knows how easily men are swayed in their minds by the merely marvelous “signs and wonders.”
John said, Jesus did not trust them, that is those whose belief in him was based solely on what he could do. It is far too easy to be wooed and awed by what appears to be something or someone who can do the extra-ordinary. As it is totally a different thing to come to belief in God by faith alone.
As we read the gospels we see that there others who demanded signs, as St. Paul says in today’s Epistle. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and folly to Gentiles…”
The “sign” Paul is writing about is the cross? It is the sign of God’s saving grace and of His love for all mankind. Nevertheless, to some who claim to be wise by today’s standards it remains a folly. However, as Paul says, the world’s so-called wisdom is thwarted by God’s so-called foolishness.
What about us? That is a good Lenten question for each of us to ponder in terms of our relationship to Christ. What is our belief in Jesus based on? Is it merely what He can do for us? On the other hand, is it what He has done for us?
Are we like the chief priests and scribes in today’s gospel always seeking a “sign” from God to know what He is doing in our lives or asking us to do for Him and the sake of the gospel is the real deal? Or do we walk by faith trusting in the providence of God?
To answer honestly any and all of the above questions depends upon how we view God’s so-called foolishness, - the Cross- and the person of the one who died upon it.
For Christ’ death and resurrection has done for us what none of us could ever do for ourselves - reconciled us to God - and by doing so we have been given the means of grace to live the new life to which we have been called in the hope of one day sharing in Christ’s glory. AMEN+