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Scripture Reflection - March 3, 2024

Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 20: 1-17 - Psalm 19: 8-11    - 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25    - John 2: 13-25

Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt, New York Scripture Reflection

"Astonishing as it may sound, it is likely that as many as two and a quarter million Jews sometimes assembled in the Holy City to keep the Passover."  This was a prime opportunity not only for sincere worship but also for lucrative endeavors that would catapult participants into a world of wealth and powerful prestige. Every pilgrim passing through the portals of the temple and even those outside had to pay the temple tax, which was the equivalent of about two days' wages for a working man – but had to be paid in the special temple coin because the Roman coin had the imprint of Caesar which provided a government recognition independent from any spiritual emphasis. This is why the moneychangers did so much business as they kept portions of the revenue for themselves before offering it as tribute. Above all, the presence of these merchants in the temple courts spoiled the only place Gentiles could pray. Jesus wasn't against the temple, but he certainly looked beyond it. He told the Samaritan woman that there was a day coming when "people would no longer worship at a temple in Samaria or Jerusalem, but they would worship God in Spirit and in truth." Jesus loved and revered the temple. He may have argued with the power structures in charge, but the temple itself held the sacred scriptures, and Jesus loved to be present within it; He called it "My Father's House". 

The objection Jesus had with the temple was that it was no longer the sacred place for worship but rather a place of business, of recognizing the elite and ignoring the poor, of amassing material treasure that had nothing to do with the heart or the love God had for everyone regardless of individual differences. His words reflecting his impending death and resurrection were totally lost on most listeners. These words three years later were the very words that the religious leaders used to condemn Christ, calling to the stand false witnesses who declared: "This man stated, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days." We must remember that however dark Christ's saying seemed when it was spoken, it did in effect tell the Jews of the greatest and most important sign which could be given them as a proof of his messiahship and his resurrection. In essence, the words signified a truth that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, no one need believe that he was the Messiah. But if he did rise, no one would have an excuse to disbelieve him. As Paul wrote: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith."


With the resurrection settled, the rest of the record seems possible, but doubting the resurrection makes the rest improbable. In cleansing the temple, Jesus highlighted the devastating impact that the temple and local government were having on the peasantry, who comprised the majority of the population. In addition to infringing upon the worship rights of the poor and the Gentiles by taking up valuable worship space within the Court of the Gentiles, the exorbitant taxes being imposed were adding additional stress to an already beleaguered populace. It was clear that the Gentile worshippers were being marginalized, as the space provided for them to worship was being used to house animals, stalls, feed supplies, and other essentials necessary for maintaining animals worthy of temple sacrifices. 


By overturning the tables and sending the money changers away, Jesus took a stand against the oppressive conditions of his time. The call to action that Jesus made through his actions within the temple was not static; it resounds through the ages. It was a dynamic call for all believers to rally behind the poor and the oppressed to take a stand against the conditions that promote exploitation and actions contrary to the love of Christ and the kingdom of God. Because Christ placed his mission within the context of the kingdom of God, we must do likewise, and because Christ embodied his teaching in the way he treated people, we must do the same. Somewhere around two thousand years since Jesus' call to action, people are still being oppressed and marginalized at the expense of others.


The status quo continues to reign by exploiting those who are unable to speak for themselves while continuing to increase their own fortunes regardless of the needs of the less fortunate. The number of people living in abject poverty continues to rise at alarming rates, but sadly, little is being done to alleviate their suffering; conversely, by loving one another in the sense that Jesus loves humanity unconditionally and without exception and by seeking justice as the counterpart to love, contemporary believers can still make a difference. They will do so by taking a stand against the status quo and by calling the evils of inequality and injustice by name. Empowered by the example provided by Jesus' temple actions as well as the commandment to love one another as Jesus did, believers have the divine backing to be an influence in helping to eliminate, or at least alleviate, much of the suffering that is taking place throughout the world. By overturning the moneychanger's tables and forcing them out of the temple Jesus stood up for the oppressed and marginalized; he became the voice for the voiceless by promoting a renewed kingdom, open to all who would accept it.


The life Jesus promoted was based upon "human contact without discrimination and divine contact without hierarchical constructs." The methods being employed by those who are exploiting the poor in order to become wealthy must be recognized and the status quo upset. Likewise, the Christian movement must move away from the side of the strong and powerful and stand alongside the weak and the oppressed. If God always takes his stand, and he does unconditionally and passionately on the side of the outcast and lowly, then we must do the same. Believers who claim to love one another in the manner reflected by Christ cannot do so without taking steps to alleviate the conditions that are allowing people to hurt, suffer, and collapse underneath the weight of injustice and oppression.


The Kingdom of God is within you, and you are an heir to the King!

Sr. Anne Daniel Young, OP


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