Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 RV 10:8-11
Then the voice spoke to me and said:
“Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel
who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
So I went up to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll.
He said to me, “Take and swallow it.
It will turn your stomach sour,
but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.”
I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it.
In my mouth it was like sweet honey,
but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Then someone said to me, “You must prophesy again
about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131
In the way of your decrees I rejoice,
as much as in all riches.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
Yes, your decrees are my delight;
they are my counselors.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
How sweet to my palate are your promises,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
Your decrees are my inheritance forever;
the joy of my heart they are.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
I gasp with open mouth
in my yearning for your commands.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
Alleluia JN 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ driving the money changers from the temple. Rembrandt, 1626. The Puskin Fine Arts Musem, Moscow
Gospel LK 19:45-48
Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out
those who were selling things, saying to them,
“It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,
but you have made it a den of thieves.”
And every day he was teaching in the temple area.
The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile,
were seeking to put him to death,
but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose
because all the people were hanging on his words.
Commentary on Luke 19:45-48 From Living Space
Luke tells us very briefly of the scene where Jesus, now in Jerusalem, drives the traders from the courts of the Temple. “‘My house is meant for a house of prayer’,” says Jesus quoting from Isaiah (56:7) and Jeremiah (7:11) respectively, “but you have turned it into ‘a den of thieves’.”
The trading took place in the outer court, also known as the Court of the Gentiles, and, as is not unusual in such situations, prices could be grossly inflated. John speaks of a cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (2:13-25) but in the other three gospels it takes place at the end. Two possible explanations have been given. Either there were two cleansings or, more likely, John moved the story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry for theological reasons. He wanted to show Jesus as Messiah right from the beginning whereas in the Synoptics Jesus’ identity as Messiah is only gradually revealed. There are also some differences in the various accounts. John mentions cattle and sheep and has Jesus use a whip made of cords. Matthew and Luke seem to indicate that the event took place on what we call Palm Sunday but for Mark it was on the following day (Mark 11:1-17).
Those coming to the Temple needed to buy animals for the sacrifices and they needed to change their Roman coins into acceptable Jewish currency (shekels) to make their contributions to the Temple. Jesus had no problem about that. What he objected to was that this business was being carried on inside God’s house when it could just as well have been done outside.
We all know how street traders try to get as close to the action as they can. However, there may be hints that priests in the Temple connived at this business and hence would certainly have profited from it. But Jesus (and probably others as well) felt that such business was not appropriate in a place dedicated to the worship of God.
It would be hard for us to imagine hawkers being allowed to set up stalls inside our churches, although the vendors of Sunday papers do get pretty close to the church doors.
Not surprisingly, the chief priests and the scribes – especially those who might have been involved in what must have been a lucrative business – were plotting how to get rid of Jesus who was upstaging their authority and accusing them of hypocrisy, greed and corruption. The chief priests, as members of the ruling Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, wielded great authority. But it was not going to be easy as the ordinary people continued to flock to Jesus and, as Luke tells us, “were hanging on his every word”.
Jesus is an example of the true prophet. He speaks as a messenger of God and is indeed God’s own Son. He stands as a counter-witness to all that is against truth, love and justice and as such inevitably incurs the anger and hostility of those who have power, power based on falsehood, on self-interest, corruption and injustice.
Our Church, in its communities and through individuals, is called on to continue that mission of counter-witness. It will win us the support and admiration of some but also the hostility, the anger and even the violence of others. This is something we should not at all be surprised at nor something we should try to avoid. Our only concern must be always to speak the truth in love. God will take care of the rest. Because, ultimately, truth, love and justice will prevail.
Context. Luke after having described the journey of Jesus going up to Jerusalem (11-19, 28) now presents him while he is carrying out his activity in the context of the Temple. After the entrance of the one sent by the Lord into Jerusalem passing through the door on the East (19, 45), the Temple becomes the first place where Jesus carries out his activity: the controversies that are narrated take place in this place and they refer to this. Jesus’ going to the Temple is not only a personal fact but also concerns the “multitude of his disciples” (v. 37) on their relationship with God (vv. 31-34). Luke above all, presents a first episode in which are presented the preparations for the entrance of Jesus into the Temple (vv. 29-36) and their realization (vv. 37-40); then follows a scene where we find the passage of today’s liturgy: his installation in the Temple and driving out the sellers from the Temple (vv. 45-48).
The diffusion of the Word of grace of which Jesus is the only bearer extends itself like an arch that begins with his opposition, when he was still only twelve years old in the Temple among the doctors of the Law; it is prolonged with his teaching when going across Galilee and during his journey to Jerusalem; until he entered the Temple where he takes possession of the house of God. The bases for the future mission of the Church are placed in this place: the diffusion of the Word of God. The heads of the people do not intend to suppress Jesus for having ruined the progress of the economic affairs of that time, but the reasons go back to all his previous activity of teaching and now these act in his discourse against the temple. Jesus claims something and this causes the reaction of the high priests and of the Scribes to break out. In contrast with this hostile behaviour one can see the positive one of the people who “are hanging from his words”. Jesus is considered as the Messiah who gathers around him with his Word of grace the people of God.
Does your prayer to the Lord consist in a simple relationship of father to son in which to find all the strength to communicate with God, or rather is it accompanied by uses and practices to gain over his goodness?
The Law you have uttered is
more precious to me
than all the wealth in the world.
How pleasant your
promise to my palate,
sweeter than honey in my mouth! (Ps 119,72.103)
The gospel reading yesterday ended with a sad warning of the tragic end to the Jews and the Temple of Jerusalem for failing to take cognizance of how their corruption and lack of purity of worship will lead to their downfall eventually. With deep regret and lamentation, Jesus said, “If you in your turn had only understood on this day the message of peace! But, alas, it is hidden from your eyes! Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all round you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you – and all because you did not recognize your opportunity when God offered it!” This is the same warning given to us today as well. It will be worse; we will witness not just the destruction of our churches, but the destruction of family life, marriage institution, which is the bedrock of society, division, the loss of moral values, disorder and chaos in society and the world, because of extremists who are fundamentalists or secularists.
For this reason, there is a great urgency, as today’s scripture readings invite us, to purify the Temple of God. But what does it mean to purify the Temple of God today? In the days of old, during the time of the Maccabees, purification of the Temple of God was simply to purify the Temple of Jerusalem. It was simply to ensure the purification of worship, especially rituals and sacrifices. Beyond that, it was to ensure orthodoxy that the Torah was faithfully kept by the people. And finally, purification meant to ensure the purity of the race so that there would be no pagan cultures, values and religious beliefs and practices to contaminate the people. Indeed, this was what Judas and his brothers sought to do even to the extent of destroying those who opposed or hinder them from practising their faith as passed on from generation to generation. So after driving out their enemies, they rededicated the Temple of Jerusalem with great rejoicing, believing that “the reproach of the pagans was lifted from them.”
But today, this would not be how we believe that the Temple of God should be purified. Of course, we should still maintain and preserve orthodoxy in teachings and beliefs, but we are also open to peoples of other religions, so long as what they teach and practise reflect the truth of Christ, especially when they live noble lives of love, service and compassion. Also, we have gone beyond ritual purity and strict liturgical laws as the Church today speaks of inculturation of what is good in the cultures of the people even in worship. Today, in the Catholic Church, we recognize that there is a diversity of expression of the same faith and hence the Church permits the existence of different rites in the celebration of the sacraments and in worship. Finally, no longer is the Church confined to a race but the Church, being Catholic, welcomes all to the Church of Christ. Membership is open to all, regardless of race, language or culture.
More importantly, we would want to go along with Christ that what is most important oday in the purification of the Temple is more of a spiritual and moral dimension. Indeed, in the gospel, He came to purify the Temple of Jerusalem because the people were merely observing the external practices of the religion but they were living a life of hypocrisy, cheating, manipulating the poor, oppression and greed. So what Jesus felt was needed was not external cleansing but a spiritual cleansing. This was what Jesus did and said. “Jesus went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling. ’According to scripture’ he said ‘my house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’”
Indeed, this is surely the case for us all as well. What is needed most today is to purify the Temple of Christ as He did with the Temple of Jerusalem by helping our people to live a life of holiness and integrity. Without holiness and integrity, there can be no real conversion or evangelization. What the Church needs most is conversion of minds and hearts; and a return to the gospel message of the Church, which is one of Good News, rooted in love, compassion, forgiveness. This is what the worship of God in spirit and in truth ultimately is.
Empty and beautiful rituals and practices that pay lip service to God are of no use but a cover up of the lack of a spiritual life. Indeed, often many Catholics argue and fight over liturgical rules and practices in the Church, often without charity and humility in the way they seek to restore what they perceive to be the right things to be done in the Church. Ironically, this liturgical battle within our Church has caused many from both sides, the traditionalists and the more progressive, to become bitter and leave the Church. What matters more in the Church is helping our people to live lives of love and charity and forgiveness; and service in selflessness with humility.
Hence, what is most needed, as Jesus tells us, is the conversion of hearts and minds, beginning with the leaders of the Church, clerical, religious and lay. They are the biggest stumbling blocks to renewal in the Church. In truth, they are not bad people, just like the scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus often lambasted. Church leaders very often have stayed long in the Church and are conditioned by inherited traditions, the outdated theology that they learnt many years ago in the seminary or in their theological studies and also their experience in pastoral ministry. Some have become jaded, lost their zeal and some wounded in the ministry. Some are proud of course, but also insecure of their positions. As a result, many are blind even to their sins of pride and insecurity. It is not that they do not want to change, but they cannot see, like the blind scribes and Pharisees during Jesus’ day, the need to make changes. They could only see things through their own blinkers. For this reason, the people that really need conversion are the leaders. Indeed, in the gospel, those who were against Jesus were not the ordinary people because they “as a whole hung on his words.” But it was the leaders who plotted to get rid of Jesus because they saw Him as a nuisance, and a threat to the status quo and, most of all, the Jewish religion and institution. This is what we read, “The chief priests and the scribes, with the support of the leading citizens, tried to do away with him.”
So how can any real conversion come about? As Jesus says, we need to make the Temple into a house of prayer. The key to holiness is prayer, as Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter, “At the beginning of the new millennium”. We need to train our people in prayer, but most of all; we need to make time for prayer. Without a deepening prayer life, vocal, meditative and contemplative prayer, we will never be able to get in touch with our real selves and most of all with God. But there can be no real prayer without a love for the Word of God. Like the Jews, do we hang on His words? We need to strengthen our prayer and relationship with the Lord by learning how to meditate and pray the scriptures daily so that we could grow in understanding of His will and also find inspiration, encouragement and direction in every area of life. Without a deep love for the Word of God, our prayers will remain shallow and sentimental. The way to encounter God is through the head and then move to the level of the heart so that we move from thinking to feeling and being. In intimacy, we find strength, consolation and His presence. Lastly, for a real conversion of life, we must be ready to make sacrifices for the love of God and our fellowmen. In the first reading, we read how the faithful Jews were ready even to give up their life for the preservation of the faith and their culture, so much so that they would do anything to ensure that God is glorified in all things. We too are called to re-dedicate ourselves just as the Maccabeans re-dedicated the Temple anew to God. We are called to consecrate our lives to God for His glory through our communion with Him, in thanksgiving for His love in the celebration of the Eucharist, our sacrifices of love and charity towards others.
Tomorrow evening, we will celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. In this feast, we anticipate Jesus’ realization of His mission, which is to establish the kingdom of God. But what has today’s gospel text of the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus got to do with the realization of the kingdom? It must be noted that this episode is inserted in St Luke’s gospel immediately after His entry to Jerusalem, which is the place of Christ’s passion and glorification. Necessarily, there is a close link between the kingdom, which Jesus has come to establish, and the purification of the Temple of Jerusalem.
In order to see this connection, we must realize that the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus is a prophetic act fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi when the prophet spoke of the messiah who would come to the temple to purify the sons of Levi so that right offerings could be presented to the Lord once again. Purifying the Temple is therefore part of the process of establishing the kingdom of God. This is because when we speak of the kingdom, we are referring to the fact of God’s reign in our hearts. The kingdom is synonymous with the rule of God in the world, especially in the hearts of men.
Indeed, what is the symbol of the temple? As individuals, we are called to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. When we live the life of Christ in the Spirit, we become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Collectively, as a community of Christians and as Church, we are called the Temple of God. But before the Church can be the Temple of God, we must, as individuals, be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. In claiming that we are living the life of the Spirit, we are in effect saying that God lives in us. Therefore God reigns in our lives. Indeed, a few days earlier, we read in the book of Revelation where Jesus is seen standing at the door of our hearts knocking, saying, “If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him.”
What does it mean then to purify the Temple of God? We must be careful not to see it only from the spiritual or ritualistic meaning. When Jesus drove out the traders, it was not because it was wrong to sell animals because they were needed for temple worship and sacrifice. Rather it was because they were making financial gains and profiteering from selling the animals at an exorbitant price, depriving the poor of the opportunity to offer sacrifices. What was even more disgusting was that the traders were in cahoots with the temple officials, monopolizing the trade. The truth is that the priests would find fault with the animals sold outside the temple and refused them as worthy for the sacrifice, thereby forcing the poor to buy from the official sellers at the Temple. Such were the abuses and cheating that were being practised. Rightly so, Jesus citing the scriptures said, “My house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.” The temple was literally a robbers’ den indeed.
Thus, we would be interpreting it wrongly if we think that Jesus was condemning the traders for selling the animals; implying that there is a separation between the sacred and the profane. We must hold that the world is not separated from God. The fact that animal sacrifices were used as a means of worship meant that everything is worthy of God. At any rate, God had created the world and God found it to be good. Even in Christian worship, at the offertory, we bless God for the gifts of creation, which we bring to worship. The value of creation is further given basis in the doctrine of the Incarnation. So, we must not misinterpret the action of Jesus as His intention to separate earthly matters from spiritual matters. On the contrary, the intrinsic connection between them is seen in that the world needs to be sanctified. All mundane matters when employed correctly are fit for worship. So we are called to sanctify the world. How do we do this?
We sanctify the world and all mundane matters when we employ our work, studies, sufferings, sicknesses, friendships, recreation and our services for the good of the world and ourselves. Every earthly thing is sanctified when we have a godly and spiritual motive in what we do. In the final analysis, it is not what we do in life that matters but why we do it. We must therefore purify our intention so that what we do is not for selfish and ambitious motives but for the love of God and others.
Hence, what is required of us is that we must purify the temple within us. We must purify our motives in all that we do, whether it is studies, our ministry or doing good works. Things by themselves are neutral. But when we make use of the things or talents God gave to us with the right motives, they can become the mediators of God. So if not used properly and abused by man, the creation of God can be used to destroy men. For example, pleasure, entertainment, food, technology and even work can destroy us if we do not use them for the service of love and unity. After all, God created the world to be good but men, because of selfishness, have destroyed it by sin. Thus, we can see that the relationship between the kingdom of God and the purification of the Temple is that we are called to restore the whole of creation through sanctification.
How can this be done? In the book of Revelation, the angel exhorts us to take the scroll and “eat it; it will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.” What is this scroll if not the Word of God and His Promises? Truly, eating the Word is a sweet experience because the Word gives light, inspiration and hope. The psalmist says, “Your promise is sweet to my taste.” But that sweetness can only come about with tasting the sour experience in our stomach. We can share the sweetness of victory only if we are willing to stomach the pains of purification of our motives; the painful process of growing in humility and authenticity and truth. Purification is always a painful process.
Indeed, the book of Revelation was written to Christians under persecution. The Christian church was under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Domitian; and the Christians needed courage, strength and hope. In view of their tribulations, this book was written to remind them that through the process of purification, their faith would be stronger still.
Jesus Himself too had to face opposition when He tried to purify the temple. By proclaiming the Kingdom of God, He created enemies for Himself. We read how “the chief priests and the scribes, with the support of the leading citizens, tried to do away with him.” Hence, today’s purification of the temple symbolizes that Christ is going to purify us and sanctify us by His own death and blood. We are called to be like the people who “as a whole hung on his words”. This is also the prayer of the psalmist, “I rejoiced to do you will … your statutes are my counselors … the law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold…” Yes, let us take the scroll and eat it, tasting both what is sweet and sour.
By so doing, we fulfill the prophecy of Malachi. By first purifying ourselves, the whole Church as the Temple of God is purified. Through the Church as the sacrament of Christ and the Temple of God, we seek to sanctify the world so that the whole of God’s creation can become truly His and where He is proclaimed Lord and God to all. In this way, the kingdom of God is established and restored. Yes, like St John, we are commanded, “to prophesy again, this time about many different nations and countries and languages and emperors.” Eventually, the whole of creation is purified, filled with God’s Spirit so that God can be all in all.
Tags: God had created the world and God found it to be good, How sweet to my taste is your promise, It is written -- My house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves, Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, Jn 10:27, Lk 19:45-48, November 18 2016, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 119, rv 10:8-11, the world is not separated from God, to purify the Temple of God, we must purify the temple within us