The account of Christ cleansing the temple is dynamic and arresting. To imagine Jesus causing so much damage to the stalls is a shock. Yet, what he was doing makes perfect sense. It may not have seemed so at the time, but he was wiping the corruption from the house of God. As time crept by, the temple began to be used for these unspiritual purposes. It was a kind of gradual ‘evolution’. By the time Jesus made this stand, it would have been almost normal within the community for the temple precincts to be used in this way.
Jesus didn’t care about that. He cared only for his Father’s will. This was Jesus’s zeal for his Father’s house, which the disciples remembered when they saw what he did.
He then made what seemed like a preposterous claim: ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ but he wasn’t talking about the building itself. He referred to his own body, the temple of the body of the Son of God. And his prophecy came to pass: he was indeed raised up on the third day.
We are challenged to make ourselves – our bodies and minds – into the temple of the Spirit. What would Jesus chase out of us when he comes walking by? What dead and bigoted practices have we allowed to creep into his precincts? What temporal powers and influences do we covet in the name of the Church? What selfish deeds and thoughts do we deem fit to store in the presence of God?
The spiritual life is a challenging life. We are challenged to act upon the Gospel message, as this message is one of selflessness, of deep love. Jesus, who came to fulfil Scripture, gives us a chance to build on the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, by giving us a fuller understanding of what it is to do the Father’s will. Where Moses’ tablets had written on them the fundamental starting blocks to a life of good morality and religious allegiance, Jesus is now the ultimate example whom we follow.
Sometimes, the changes we must make to our own lives can feel just as shocking, just as damaging, as the actions of Jesus as he cracked the whip in the temple. But that is what we need. And we need it because, without the light of his grace, humanity begins to serve its own ends and nefarious inspirations can eclipse even the greatest intentions. They can creep in slowly, taking us over, whilst all the time we assure ourselves that we are good and holy people. But, as St Benedict wrote in his Rule for monks, ‘Do not call yourself holy before you really are, but rather be holy, so that others may more truly call you so.’ To ‘be holy’ is a life’s work, and it is one of sacrifice and renunciation, not of coveting aspects of the human life that does not lead to God.
Christ is asking that we cleanse our own temple, or rather, that we remain open to his cleansing us with his Gospel message.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
Glory to you, O Lord
Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.
During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.