3rd Sunday of Lent
March 11, 2012
A missionary in Africa was captured by a tribe of cannibals. He was tied to a tree with a huge cauldron of boiling water near it. But his face lighted up when he saw the cannibals kneel down and prayed. The priest heaved a sigh of relief: “Thank God, these people are Christians, after all!” But the head cannibal called out to him: “Keep quiet! We are saying our Grace Before Meals!”
When I was in the seminary, our apostolate was at the Manila City Jail. We would visit the inmates every Sunday and teach them catechism. Late one Sunday night, a classmate of mine was coming back to the seminary. On a dark part of the street, a man accosted him, and announced a holdup. When my classmate turned to look at the man, he recognized him as one of the former inmates. Instead of being afraid, he gave the man a generous scolding. Needless to say, the man was mortified, and sincerely asked for forgiveness saying he was just in dire need of money. Out of pity, my classmate offered him a few pesos: “Here, take this and buy some cigarettes.” But the man refused to receive the money, saying, “I’m sorry, Brother. I don’t smoke during Lenten Season!”
Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah (29:13): “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts” (Mk 7:8). God demands genuine worship. God is displeased when people, and especially the priests of the Temple, were more concerned with the external rituals rather than the genuine relationship of man with God and with his fellowmen.
On this third Sunday of Lent, we see Jesus in the Temple. But instead of seeing his countenance wrapped in divine glory as when he was in the desert and in the mountain, we see him very angry. The first reason for his righteous anger was because the Temple, instead of being a house of prayer, has become a den of thieves.
The Jews consider the Temple of Jerusalem as the center of their religious life. Every year, during Passover, they go to the Temple. It is the feast that recalls the liberation of the people from Egypt through the saving act of Yahweh. So, during this time, the Temple is packed with people who have come to fulfill their obligations to God. One of these is to offer animal sacrifices. There were inspectors who would see to it that the animals (oxen, sheep and doves) must be unblemished and of the best quality. But, for obvious reasons and ulterior motives, these inspectors would readily disapprove the animals that the pilgrims brought with them. So the people were obliged to buy the animals sold in the Temple, and at very exorbitant price. This system had the approval of the high priest. Most of these people usually end up going home without being able to offer sacrifices simply because they did not have enough money. The moneychangers had also their share in the injustice done to the people. The secular money from outside is considered unworthy and dirty and they cannot be brought into the Temple. They had to be exchanged with the Temple money, and of course, for a lower value.
Obviously, injustice and oppression are done, especially to the poor. And this made Jesus very angry. The rituals in the Temple have become the occasions for abuse and oppression against the poor. The Temple became the place where greed, corruption, deceit and cheating take place.
The second reason why Jesus was angry was the discrimination that was happening in the Temple. Remember that the Temple was divided into five sections: the court of the Gentiles, the court of women, the court of men, the court of priests and the Holy of Holies. The outermost part of the Temple is the court of the Gentiles. In other words, the Temple is not only for the Jews but also for all people, including the Gentiles. But it was in the court of the Gentiles that the merchants did their business and all their shady deals. In all aspects, it has become a marketplace, and not anymore part of the house of God. So those who come to this place to pray were effectively prevented from doing so. They were practically deprived of their chance to worship God. They are excluded from the Temple worship.
We all profess to be Catholics. The word “catholic” means universal. It refers to the will of God that all people will be saved. He is the God, not only of Jews and Christians. He is God of all peoples. He belongs to all, and not only to a particular group of people. Discrimination has no room in the life of a true Christian who seriously follows the one commandment of love: love of God and love of fellowmen, even of enemies.
Finally, the challenge of Jesus to the Jewish authorities is worth considering. He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” The evangelist, St. John, was quick to explain: “But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” In other words, he was referring to his physical body as the Temple. If God resides in the temple, so also the body of Jesus is God’s Temple par excellence, for he is himself the God Incarnate. We can, therefore, certainly assume that Jesus would be equally angry at seeing people abusing and neglecting their bodies. Hence, the Gospel this Sunday is strongly reminding us to take care of our body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, according to St. Paul. Any action that harms the physical body – such as vices, abuses, and other illicit practices – is a grave sin. If we take good care of the Church building, so also we have to take care of our physical body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
As we come together in this Temple of God, let us cleanse our heart of all selfish motives and sins. May our heart be a worthy dwelling place for God. And may our acts of worship be authentic as we strive to deepen our relationship with God through our love and concern for one another.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Sta. Lucia Parish
J.P. Rizal Street, Bgy. Sta. Lucia
Novaliches, Quezon City 1117