FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA IN ROME
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.
He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.
On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17
For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Can you imagine being present in the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus overturned the money tables and drove the sellers and animals out? Maybe you’re someone trying to pray, fighting to focus over the din of the animals bleating and mooing, the merchants and customers haggling, and wishing someone would do something about it; and you feel like cheering when, lo and behold, someone does. Maybe you’re someone buying or selling, seeing nothing wrong with it, and are startled to have your business suddenly upended and rebuked. How do you experience the scene, and what is Jesus communicating through His words and actions?
Most scripture scholars agree that money-changing and commerce in the outer court of the temple was a fairly common and accepted practice. The outermost court, the court of the Gentiles, was not considered a sacred space. Moreover, worshippers coming to the temple were required to pay a temple tax, and needed to exchange their money for the proper currency. It was also customary or necessary at times to offer animals or money as sacrifices. So the sellers and money-changers were in fact offering useful services to temple visitors.
Nonetheless, Jesus turned them away. Some suggest that it is because, even in the outermost court, these sellers and money-changers were too close to the sacred place and were interfering with worship. Also, by engaging in secular activities in the outer court, they were inhibiting the worship of the Gentiles, who were not permitted any closer to the Holy Place. Finally, the money-changers may have been charging exorbitant commissions for their currency exchange services, and the animal sellers may likewise have been price-gouging. At any rate, all of these were profiting from religion and acting as opportunists. Just because a practice is common and accepted does not make it acceptable in the eyes of God.
So Jesus sends them all away. Like the river in Ezekiel that makes the stagnant waters fresh, He moves in and expels what is stagnant, expected, complacent. God is all perfect and all pure, and He desires purity and perfection for His people. He desires this for us not because He is harsh, but because it is for our good, what we were made for.
What “normal”, accepted, common practices have I permitted in my life? Do these glorify God, or do they distract from Him and make me less holy? How can I, as God’s temple, drive away what is unholy so that the perfect, the holy, the life-giving can hold sway?
Today, let’s pray for the grace to see where we’ve allowed secularism into our temples, and ask Jesus to drive it back and replace it with His presence, joy, and peace.